This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a performance of The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful at Peninsula Community Theater.
It was a dark and rainy night. A perfect night to stay inside all warm and snug with a good book, or to attend a spooky play that I didn’t know much about at an old beautiful theater in a part of town that didn’t have a whole lot of traffic. Me being the homebody, scaredy cat that I am, of course I chose to go out to the spooky play! Little did I know how well the weather set the scene for the evening’s performance.
Long before PCT’s performance, I had heard of this particular play from a co-worker who reminisced about the performance at the Little Theater of Norfolk many years ago. He had talked about how there were only two men who played all of the characters and that the costume changes were their own character. He never mentioned the plot or storyline so I felt I was coming into Friday Night’s performance as a “Naïve Play Goer.”
For those of you who have not heard of this play, The Mystery of Irma Vep is a tale about love, loss, and how those who experience all those emotions handle them. Toss in a vampire and a werewolf for good measure, and you have quite the recipe for mystery, suspense, and hilarity combined.
Walking into the theater for the first time I loved the feel of the place. The bright red curtains on the stage with the vaudeville lights was a definite statement, and I loved it! The pre-show music was fun and set the mood for the night’s events. My friend and I had fun playing Name That Tune as the songs played. The lights dimmed, the speech was given, and those bright red curtains opened to reveal an absolutely gorgeous set designed by Jason Martens and constructed by John Wilt. The colors were bold and suited the story. At times, the space seemed a little tight, especially in Act 3, but overall the staging was executed well with stunning detail. I would be remiss if I did not mention the beautiful paintings done by Betsy Forrest. The portraits were gorgeous!
Chris Hogan and Matthew Allen were the stars of the night with Meg Murray’s incredible costumes marking out a place of their own. The dresses were simply breathtaking with their design and detail while being able to be changed in a flash with the help of the dresser Peggy Wesley.
I admired the versatility of Hogan and Allen, but had trouble with a few things. Hogan’s characters were fun and easy to follow. I did find it hard to separate Nicodemus and Alcazar. They seemed like the same character in different costumes — there wasn’t enough to distinguish them for me. That being said, Nicodemus’ one liners had terrific timing and delivery. I also loved his portrayal of Lady Enid — she was fun and flouncy with just enough attitude.
Allen seemed to have a rough night. He dropped or flubbed quite a few lines, and he seemed much more comfortable in character as Jane than he did playing Lord Edgar. His portrayal of her was excellent. Her snobbery was spot on! Lord Edgar was more difficult to embrace. I can’t put my finger on one thing in particular, but overall, he just didn’t have the same vivacity that Jane emitted. For me, she became the character I loved to hate while Lord Edgar seemed one — note and oblivious to everything around him.
In conclusion, Christopher Bernhardt’s vision of Irma Vep was brought to life by two talented men and a number of people behind the scenes. On the technical side, the story, though entertaining, was dragged out due to some of the costume changes, there were a number of missed lighting cues that distracted from certain dramatic plot points, and the British accents weren’t consistent the entire performance. All of these issues, however, were minor speed bumps when included in the greater picture of the production. This isn’t my favorite play I have seen, but that doesn’t take away from the hard work and commitment of everyone involved. I’d encourage you to give it a chance and enjoy a night out in a classic setting with a number of laughs and lots of talent. Who knows, you may even be the one to figure out the mystery of Irma Vep!
The Mystery of Irma Vep is playing through the 22nd at 10251 Warwick Ave in Newport News. Tickets here.