WINDY CITY TIMES
||The Mystery Of Irma Vep
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
This article shared 1316 times since Wed Apr 2, 2003
Playwright: Charles Ludlam
At: Northlight Theatre in Skokie
Phone: (847) 673-6300; $34-$46
Runs through: April 27
It's easy to understand why Northlight Theatre would choose to stage Charles Ludlam's 1984 screwball farce. What could be more fun than two actors playing six or more roles in a high-speed spoof of a hackneyed genre like gothic melodrama? What better exemplifies this type of comedy than The Mystery Of Irma Vep? The only problem with this particular stunt-show is its preponderance of pre-Stonewall homophile humor—amusement in some circles today considered to be as quaint as fan-dancing, and in others, as repugnant as minstrel shows.
Part of the reason for this is that the camp-drag ethos spares no sensitivities, pulls no punches and dances with spike heels on the feet of the guilty and innocent alike. Audacity is its gospel, Bad Taste its banner. (During the civil-rights movement, any mention of 'We Shall Overcome' would be invariably followed by 'WE shall come all over!'). Such hostile mockery having met with growing censure over the last few decades, the prospect of confronting audiences in 2003 with arthritic knee-slappers like a mummy case designated a 'sarco-FAG-us,' or a servant pouring tea—upon noticing her mistress bent ass-up over a table—inquiring, 'How do you take it?', is a risky proposition for performers and spectators alike.
Veteran farceurs Peter Amster, Tom Aulino and Jamie Baron are aware of this. But the reticence of opening night playgoers to engage in laughter based in cultural stereotypes could not help but make for a painfully tense first act. By the second, however, this hesitancy made way for a more relaxed atmosphere with those on both sides of the footlights sharing in Ludlam's high-artifice satire.
What occurred during intermission to assure spectators that joining in the ribaldry was permitted? Was the show's uneven pace a side-effect of reshaping Ludlam's three-act text to conform to modern two-act format? Will this kind of entertainment pass into the realm of antiquity when Dame Edna retires? THAT is the REAL mystery of Irma Vep, and until an answer is found, the only unanimously acknowledged stars of this production are likely to be Richard and Jacqueline Penrod's fold-out-storybook scenic design and its conspicuously incognito operator.
This article shared 1316 times since Wed Apr 2, 2003
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