Los Angeles Theater Review: THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP (Falcon Theatre in Burbank)

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by Tom Chaits on November 3, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Back in the1800s, the Industrial revolution was in full swing in merry ole England. The working class was becoming more educated and printing was becoming more affordable. To quench the thirst of the masses for every day diversions, “penny dreadfuls” hit the scene. These serialized fictional publications, sold for a penny, usually featured tales of the bizarre and lurid variety aimed at the younger generation who couldn’t afford the upper class offerings of authors like Charles 'Lord Edgar' (Matthew Floyd Miller) and 'Lady Enid' (Jamie Torcellini) in The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Falcon Theatre.Dickens. Over time the term came to represent any form of cheap sensational and tawdry entertainment for the commoners.

Now the Falcon Theatre brings a “penny dreadful” of the theatrical ilk to the stage with their production of The Mystery of Irma Vep. Unfortunately instead of raucous and ribald humor of the low brow kind they serve up dull and boring of the tedious kind. Written by Charles Ludlam and originally produced Off-Broadway by his Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1984 the show won many accolades and ran for several years – fates that this current production is surely not destined for.

The time is Victorian England between the wars and the action unfolds in the library drawing room of Mandacrest, the haunted estate of Lord Edgar (Matthew Floyd Miller) and Lady Enid Hillcrest (Jamie Torcellini), and around Egypt. A send up of horror films, melodramas, classic literature and all things spooky, Mr. Ludlam 'Nicodemus' (Jamie Torcellini) and 'Jane Twisden' (Matthew Floyd Miller) in The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Falcon Theatre.throws in everything but the kitchen sink including vampires, werewolves, mummies and assorted sundries that go bump in the night.

The script is written as a two-hander with both actors playing a total of eight roles crossing all gender lines and features a series of quick changes that are amazing to witness. In the original outing, the octet was played by Mr. Ludlam and his life-partner Everett Quinton. As the playwright, Mr. Ludlam understood the vaudevillian underpinnings of the script and knew exactly how to play them out to hysterical results. In order for the “sketchy” material to work, the performers must commit totally and play it completely straight even when the story reaches to extreme levels of absurdity. If the actors give even the slightest hint that they are in on the joke then the bubble is burst and the jokes fall flat.

'Nicodemus' (Jamie Torcellini) and 'Jane Twisden' (Matthew Floyd Miller) in The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Falcon TheatreMr. Miller and Mr. Torcellini are clearly very talented performers. The pair has drawn eight very distinctive and different characters and they have mastered the physical comedy and quick changes quite well. The problem lies in the fact that they seem to be having a gay old time entertaining one another. They appear to constantly be on the verge of cracking each other up. While it might have been fun to occasionally watch Tim Conway get the best of Carol Burnett you certainly didn’t want to watch it for two hours. That is the case here. It totally throws the comedic timing off and as a result the only ones in the theater on the verge of giggling are the actors. It is a mystery why director Jenny Sullivan did not put a stop to these shenanigans. If this is her idea of how to play the jokes then she is completely missing the point. In addition, when the humor misfires in such enormous proportions the weaknesses in the script are accentuated and the entire affair seems pointless.

The set design by Thomas S. Giamario seems a bit slipshod and thrown together. At a cursory glance all is well with the world but take a closer look and you begin to see 'Lord Edgar' (Matthew Floyd Miller) and 'Alcazar' (Jamie Torcellini) in The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Falcon Theatre.the shortcomings. The faux wood panel walls in the mansion look obviously painted and the Egyptian rendering of the Sphinx is amateurish. It has the feel of an upscale High School production. He does much better with the lighting design which works very well as does the sound design by David Beaudry. Considering the period piece nature of the show and the quick changes that need to be facilitated, Alex Jaeger did a great job with the costumes.

Several members of the audience on the night I attended did not return after the intermission but many of those who did seemed to be enjoying themselves which was a real mystery to me. By my calculation the actors were only landing about 5% of the laugh lines which is, at least for me, completely unacceptable and absolutely dreadful.

'Jane Twisden' (Matthew Floyd Miller) and 'Lady Enid' (Jamie Torcellini) in The Mystery of Irma Vep now playing at the Falcon Theatre.


photos by Chelsea Sutton

The Mystery of Irma Vep
Falcon Theatre in Burbank
scheduled to end on November 17, 2013
for tickets, call (818) 955-8101
or visit http://www.falcontheatre.com

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