There’s no mystery about why Charles Ludlam’s 1984 tour-de-force cult classic Gothic novel spoof The Mystery of Irma Vep isn’t performed more often, even though in 1991 it was “the most produced play in The United States” and two years later “the longest-running play ever produced in Brazil.” It demands a director with a strong sense of satire, farce and absurdity, actually of The Ridiculous, which was the name of the Theatrical Company Ludlam founded in 1967. It also requires two actors – same sex, please, as Ludlam stipulated – who can do the play’s several roles without losing a beat. For sure, Irma also deserves an audience that can appreciate the choreographed mania (a wild number of costume changes in two hours), outrageous puns and campy allusions to literature, film, not-so-mellow drama and the gay community. As for that name, “Irma Vep,” well, anagram lovers may start to play around immediately, but patience will be rewarded, as the mystery of who, or what, Irma Vep was or is emerges in full antic-frantic Ludlam mode.
With Kate Mueth directing, Trevor Vaughn playing Lord Edgar, owner of the madcap manor house, Mandacrest, and Isaac Klein playing Lady Enid, Edgar’s second wife (number one was Irma, now deceased), The Mystery of Irma Vep couldn’t ask for a better ensemble. The principals have solid grounding in all aspects of theatre and extensive experience doing both serious and send up. It’s particularly rewarding, says Kate, that the actors, both 29, are good friends and colleagues and are “highly intelligent and committed to theatre.” They met at the North Carolina School of the Arts and are collaborating on a play by Isaac in the city. Casting good friends saves time, she points out.
Her own take on the play will be just that — her own. Though she has done some research on Ludlam, she is eager to put her own stamp on the production, one that will respond to the special demands of doing an outdoor performance on a small stage, “working smart.” The first half of the play, she notes, will take place before the sun has completely gone down. Thus, the being-transported-to-Egypt scene (don’t ask!) must be timed so that it can take place in total darkness. Other considerations were stage space and season. The play is being performed in a barn. The stage is small, the audience up close. A piece that calls for just two actors seemed ideal, and summer seemed to suggest light fare. But The Mystery of Irma Vep, while “fun, is not pedestrian, it’s not the kind of play you can see just anywhere.” It also has a lot of physical energy and that appeals to Kate as a specialist in dance theatre.
Irma opens Mulford Repertory Theatre’s 2012 season, its fifth year. The company is named for the playing ground – Mulford Farm, an old English Colonial farmstead. The theatre itself is the historic 1721 Mulford Barn, which has been designated by the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation “the second most important eighteenth-century barn” in the state. As has become a tradition, East End residents and visitors are encouraged to come early, bring chairs or blanket and picnic on the lawn and stroll around. As East Hampton Historical Society Executive Director Richard Barons says, “the idea of getting an audience to experience both an amazing 18th century structure, replete with 290-year-old beams, while rolling in laughter at a camp-style comedy, seemed like a great way to introduce a new venue to people not familiar with the Mulford Farm Museum.” Doing the play was actually Richard’s idea, Kate says, as he selected Irma from a handful of possibilities they had discussed. EHHS is sponsoring Mulford Repertory Theatre as part of its mission “to provide accessible professional theatrical productions in a historic setting.” Kate hopes the performances will also generate a sense of wonder. She would like the audience to leave saying “How did they do that?”
Performance dates: Wed.-Sun. August 15-19 & Wed-Sun August 22-26; Thurs.& Fri. August 30-31. 7:30. At Mulford Farm Barn, 10 James Lane, East Hampton. Note: Seating is limited (50 max). Call TheaterMania 866-811-4111. $20 in advance, $25 at door. Gates open at 5:00 p.m..