Arts and Culture Editor
The Fulton begins its Ellen Groff Series with a supremely silly little play called “The Mystery of Irma Vep.” This farcical riff on horror tropes and clichés is one where the comedy is more important than the actual plot itself. This play does tell the story of an Egyptologist named Lord Edgar (Chuck Ragsdale) who is widowed with a second wife but is still not over his first first wife, Irma Vep. This point is comically insinuated through an over-large portrait in of the late Irma, in the Lord’s home, Mandacrest Estate. The lord’s second wife, the self-obsessed Lady Enid Hillcrest (Oliver Wadsworth), does not care for Edgar’s late wife at all. All hell breaks loose when Enid is attacked by a vampire and supernatural forces start to inhabit the estate. The plot at times may be difficult, but the humor itself is really the focus here. The comedy is especially heightened considering two actors play all the characters in this over the top tale.
Chuck Ragsdale is very funny in the roles of Jane Twisden, Lord Edgar Hillcrest, and a mysterious intruder. Ragsdale plays many of his roles somewhat seriously, which makes the natural humor within Charles Ludlam’s script shine brighter. His character of the uptight maid, Jane Twisden, is particularly amusing. He completely transforms into this character as he does with every one he inhabits. With a simple maid costume and an English accent, Ragsdale is stunningly believable as a woman. This makes his turn as the traditionally masculine Lord Edgar Hillcrest to be especially impressive. While Hillcrest is more of the serious character of this piece, Ragsdale’s transformation into his various roles brings much comedy and thrills to this production.
While Ragsdale is the straight man of the show, Oliver Wadsworth’s performance style is much broader with constant winking and delightful pandering to the audience. In a lesser production, this acting style may seem excessive or overdone, but with Ragsdale by his side, they are truly the perfect pair. Wadsworth plays four parts, but his most notable are without a doubt the hilariously flamboyant Lady Enid Hillcrest and the comedically creepy Nicodemus Underwood. These characters could not be any more different. The theatrical Lady Enid has no filter and constantly says what is on her mind. Nicodemus shares this trait yet his character is very old and dirty, and is not as regal as Lady Enid. Wadsworth portrays every character with a knowing smile that makes every comedic beat hit even harder. He plays more characters, but his craft for each is very precise. Both work together as an incredible team and are truly a joy to watch.
Andrew Kindig directs this production with breathtaking energy and flair. The two actors switch between characters in a manner that is hysterical yet also incredibly impressive. The plot is also decently accessible to follow. That is no easy task considering all the commotion happening onstage. Kindig’s vision of the piece is controlled campy chaos at its best. The beginning of act two is a bit slow compared to the ridiculous hijinks of the piece’s laugh-a-minute first half, but it is still very funny. Once the action comes into the mansion again, the pace gets back to the comedic heights of the hysterical first half.
Special mention must be given to the incredibly detailed Costumes, Wigs, and Makeup Design by Anthony Lascoskie Jr. This play spoofs many horror and pop culture tropes. The costumes serve as an extension to the comedy and add a period elegance to the production. William James Mohney’s simple yet effective mansion set is detailed yet also intimate. Although it changes once for a fun Egyptian sequence, Mohney’s dramatic design with gothic lamps hung around the theatre add a period specificity that carries throughout the entire production. That certainly goes for Mary Lana Rice’s lighting, which changes effectively for the various comedic moments and even adds a slight intensity in the play’s more supernatural horror moments. Matthew Moran’s sound design is just remarkable and brings great comedic moments to the madcap changes and chases. The same can be said for Katie Walsko’s props that remain very durable despite being thrown around by both actors throughout.
Although not the most serious of dramas by any means, The Fulton’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep” is a delightfully zany night of theatre. With supremely silly comedic performances by both Ragsdale and Wadsworth, strong direction, and eye popping creative elements, this is a production audiences will not get enough of.