The Mystery of Irma Vep is a classic of Queer Theatre, a product of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which came to life in 1967 in New York City, a part of the Off-Off-Broadway movement of the 1960s, a rebellious way of challenging theatrical conventions, including breaking the law by dressing men in drag. Drawing on and repurposing multiple sources, Mr. Ludlam crafted a gay play that entertains its audiences with both its wit and its perspicacity.
Diversionary, the country’s third oldest LGBTQ+ theatre company, first performed The Mystery of Irma Vep twenty years ago. Reading through the company’s production history, this current production represents the first time Diversionary has staged the same play twice. That’s quite an accomplishment.
The play is worth repeating, as, under co-direction by Matt M. Morrow and Allison Spratt Pearce, it is a two-actor/seven-character tour de force. The two actors are constantly changing costumes in transition between one character and another (credit Brooke Nicole Kesler’s costume design and especially Peter Herman’s wig design), but it all happens so fast that three acts, two hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission, goes by in a flurry.
Act 1 takes place in Mandacrest, home to Lord Edgar Hillcrest, an Egyptologist, and Lady Enid Hillcrest. They are attended by a maid named Jane Twisden, and a swineherd named Nicodemus Underwood. The house is also haunted by Irma Vep, Lord Edgar’s first wife. It is no accident that “Irma Vep” is an anagram for “vampire.”
Act 2 takes place in Egypt, and scenic designer Matthew Herman pulls THAT off with curtains and a large mummy case, courtesy of properties designer Alyssa Kane, who had her work cut out for her. Yes, there is a mummy in the case – at least some of the time.
The intrigue continues with werewolves as well as vampires. Shots are fired, secrets are revealed.
And I shall not reveal more – you have to go see it to get the whole story. Fortunately, the production runs until December 24, and performances have been added to accommodate the demand for tickets ($50 each, with discounts for Seniors and Military).
Both Mr. Banville and Mr. Jacobs are brilliant, even if, according to their program bios, they have shared the stage many times and each “tolerates” the other. I’m glad they’re having such fun performing in this show.
You’ll have fun, too. I guarantee it.
Diversionary Theatre is located in the University Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Parking is extremely limited, and the company recommends arriving 30 minutes prior to curtain or booking a ride-share car. Alcoholic beverages are available prior to curtain, as well as after the performance ends. Masks are required inside the theater.