THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Masquers Playhouse a hysterical, hilarious must see hit.

(L)Lady Enid Hillcrest (DC Scarpelli, right) and Jane the maid (Peter Budinger, right) discuss the strange history and night terrors occuring in the Masquers Playhouse production of "The Mystery of Irma Vep" by Charles Ludlam.
(Below) A mysterious mummy (DC Scarpelli, left) enchants Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Peter Budinger, right) after he reanimates her in the Masquers Playhouse production of "The Mystery of Irma Vep" by Charles Ludlam.

Photos by Jerry Telfer

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP by Charles Ludlam; directed by Robert Love. Masquers Playhouse, Point Richmond. The playhouse is located off of Highway 580 (Richmond Parkway exit) at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond across from the Hotel Mac. or by calling (510) 232-4031 Through July 9, 2011

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Masquers Playhouse a hysterical, hilarious must see hit.

The intimate 99 seat Masquers Playhouse is an open seating theatre and when a volunteer ticket/seller induced a decided chill in this reviewer and guest when he relegated us to the end of the long, long line of those waiting to get in, a decision to leave did arise. It would have been a terrible mistake since this performance of the Charles Ludlam’s beloved farce The Mystery of Irma Vep is 90 minutes of non-stop hilarity. Get thee hence to Point Richmond, have dinner at the fine Hotel Mac with a couple glasses of wine and be prepared for an unforgettable evening of fun.

All the pieces of what makes a production memorable are here. It is a proscenium arch stage with nary an obstructed view. When the curtain opens on the charming English mansion interior, complete with fireplace and French doors (set by John Hull) with a wild storm brewing (Lighting Renee Eschavez & sound by Bill Chessman) with maid Jane Twisden (Peter Budinger) engaging Nicodemus Underwood (DC Scarpelli) the stableman in conversation, the out and out laughs begin and continue until the final tableau that received a standing ovation.

The play is the product of the late “off-the-wall and out-of-the-closet actor, playwright, director, and producer” Charles Ludlam and his partner Everett Quinton. When first produced by Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1984 it won a Drama Desk Award and an Obie Award for Ensemble Performance. Ludlam and his partner usually played all the roles (male and female) and could not have been more outrageous than the 20 year partnership of Peter Budinger and DC Scarpelli (they are married) who play all the roles that test their endurance with quick changes of costumes (marvelous costume design by Tammara Plankers & Jacki Medernach) and demeanor. Accolades go to their dressers Anne Collins and Steph Peek. Hitchcock could not write a better script in this mystery satire that even throws in references to every horror film imaginable with The Mummy’s Curse receiving special attention.

Oh yes, the story line. Lord Edgar Hillcrest has brought his second wife to live at Hillcrest Estate where his former wife Irma Vep and son were tragically murdered. As one would expect with an estate located in the moors, strange growling creatures(s) roam emitting blood curdling howls. Poor Lady Enid and the others have to put up with a ghost, werewolf and vampire. A mummy and an Egyptian princess make their entrance in a beautiful sarcophagus,embellished by Linda Ellinwood to add a further touch of class to the proceedings. Never fear the mystery is solved and Lord and Lady Hillcrest will live happily forever as they walk hand and hand through the French doors into the miasma that morphs into a glowing sunrise.

Budinger and Scarpelli are absolutely superb with perfect timing in their body actions, facial expressions and vocal intonations as the switch from male to female to animalistic character. With a few exceptions (“Some men look good in drag.”) they play their roles “straight” and seem to be having as much or more fun than the audience. Robert Love adds some spot-on directorial touches to embellish the non-stop action.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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