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Theatre Sun Nov 22 2009

The Mystery of Irma Vep, the Funniest Horror on Stage

IrmaVep.jpgA quite ambitious play has taken residence at the University of Chicago's Court Theatre. Loaded with traitorous cover-ups, secret identities and murder, The Mystery of Irma Vep takes the audience into a whirlwind of calamity -- while introducing them to one of the funniest plays in American theater.

Director, Sean Graney (founder of The Hypocrites) fruitfully takes on the eccentric playwright and actor Charles Ludlam's satirical cult classic, originally performed in 1984's Greenwich Village. The campy spoof of the Victorian era gothic novel is a commentary of sorts, parodying literary references from William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Emily Bronte, Edgar Allan Poe, Euripides and the Bible, to name a few (without being too literarily obscure, but more Monty Pythonesque).

What makes the production curiously exceptional is its stipulations: Ludlam designed the play of eight characters of both sexes to be performed only by two actors of the same sex. (Did you get all that?) So, the real show is watching the quick and flawless transitions between 35 elaborate costume changes and eight distinctive accents from actors, Erik Hellman and Chris Sullivan.

Hellman and Sullivan, V II.jpgWhile the play makes fun of vampires, werewolves, ghosts and mummies in theatrical lore, Hellman and Sullivan's hilarious takes on the oddball characters keep the audience laughing at the edge of their seats with witty banter, flawless comedic-timing and amusing over-the-top expressions. There are frequent audible gasps with how quickly Sullivan, for example, changes from his spooky, dimwitted Nicodemus character to his flamboyantly dressed, attention-starved Lady Enid role.

There are clearly numerous opportunities for error in a play this ambitious; reading the dynamic of the play may leave prospective audience members skeptical of its execution -- to be honest I went into the play assuming it would be either drab or exceptional -- but avant-garde director Graney and uproarious actors, Hellman and Sullivan truly make this production their own with remarkable camp style -- while still providing a suspenseful (albeit twisted) mystery.

The Mystery of Irma Vep will be running at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., until Dec. 13. Tickets for the show range from $10-$56 (depending on the night of the performance and if you are a student) and can be purchased at the online box office or by phone at 773-753-4472.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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