By Charles Norton, Staff Writer
The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful, by Charles Ludlum, was presented on the main stage theatre at Jenkins Hall’s from September 25-28, by the Armstrong Masquers student theatre troupe, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the production and delighting audiences of all ages.
Irma Vep is a hilarious, genre-defying, gender-bending mash-up of Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman movie series. A large helping of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “Rebecca”, is also mixed in. The production was laced with satire and outrageous puns to spoof literary, film, and theatrical genres.
“This definitive spoof of Gothic melodramas is a quick change marathon in which two actors play all of the roles; a sympathetic werewolf, a vampire, and an Egyptian princess. They are brought to life when the princess’ tomb is opened, making this a comedy that has everything,” Publisher Samuel French said.
Two actors, Jonathan Hanley and Tristan Carlson, performed all of the parts via 50 costume changes to perform eight different roles–both male and female. Each of the characters were so unique that it was easy for audience members to forget that they were seeing only two actors. Handley, a third year theatre major, learned the importance of trust with the play. “When you have people helping you change costumes and wigs, you have to rely on them to do it right. It was a whole new level of fun,” he said.
This is Tristan Carlson’s first acting role for ASU, and he is happy to have a show of this difficulty under his belt.
“I am happy to be a part of a great cast and crew and even happier to present a show that’s going to garner a lot of laughs,” he said.
The role was so physically demanding, considering Handley lost ten pound during rehearsals. One of the characters he played, Nicodemus, had both a cockney accent and an artificial leg, requiring the character to have an exaggerated limp.
“Creating the characters was easy,” Handley said, “but the hard part was keeping the physicality of the characters right.”
The play is chock full of hilarious puns that the audience found laugh-out-loud hilarious. The 1984 script was updated to include references to shows like, The Lion King, Les Miserables, The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, and a Disney medley, to name just a few. Poe and Shakespeare were not immune to the satire either.
Travis Hornsby, ASU theatre graduate of 2013, served as both Director and Costume Designer. He was attracted to the script because it utilized his skill sets as an actor and director that he learned as a student. “Irma Vep is a brilliant piece of theatre from an acting standpoint,” he said. He felt that his comedic directing strengths contributed positively to the production.
Irma Vep served as a great contrast with the summer production of Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None. Both plays utilized basically the same set and were mysteries. Irma Vep was modified in a way that made it appear fresh and new. Although the walls were the same, new set dressings, fireplace, and bookcases with hidden rooms were installed to create Mandecrest Estate. There’s even a suit of armor to add British flavor to the set.
Act II took place entirely in an Egyptian tomb, complete with sandstone hieroglyphs and larger than life sarcophagus. The challenge, faced by Megan Baptiste-Field; Assistant Professor, Design and Production/Technical Director, was to design an Egyptian setting that was easily moveable, yet convinced the audience that they were in an ancient tomb. Actors had to be measured in costume and have the sarcophagus designed around them. “It was big, but it still had to function and fit onstage for the rest of the show,” Baptiste-Field said.
The hieroglyph panels had the look of authentic sandstone, but amazingly, were designed and constructed specifically for the play from lightweight styrofoam. Baptise-Field was proud of the crews that helped bring the set to life, and says that she teaches many stage building techniques in her Stagecraft classes on campus.
If the Armstrong Masquers top-notch productions thus far this season are any indication of things to come, then the upcoming Improv nights on Oct 17-18, and Halloween thriller, The Pillowman on Oct 28-Nov 1 are not to be missed events. Mark them on your calendars now. And by the way, Irma Vep — for those of you that missed it — is an anagram for the word “vampire.” Mystery solved!