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Supernatural shenanigans in ‘Irma Vep’

By |2018-01-15T23:01:43-05:00September 8th, 2011|Entertainment|

By John Quinn

Who knew we’ve been camping it up for so long? As early as 1909, the Oxford English Dictionary cited “camp” as “ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to, characteristic of, homosexuals.” If the American theater had a king (or queen, both titles would be suitable), it was actor-playwright-impresario extraordinaire Charles Ludlam. His body of work for the Ridiculous Theatrical Company was a rude, crude, lewd sock to the chops of conventional theater and the common culture. Only one of his plays has entered the theatrical mainstream: a send-up of Gothic horror tales, “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” now showcased at the Tipping Point Theatre in Northville.
“Irma Vep” has a nodding acquaintance with Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” spiced with a heavy dose of b-movie schlock. The widowed Lord Edgar Hillcrest has brought his new bride, Enid, to his remote estate on the foggy moors. But over Mandacrest looms the memory of the first Lady Hillcrest, the beautiful Irma Vep. In a series of dark and stormy nights (with a brief sojourn to Egypt), we learn about her sad life and tragic death, largely through the conversations of her faithful servants, Jane Twisden and Nicodemus Underwood. Toss in some pregnant pauses, veiled innuendo and werewolves and you have your standard Saturday late-night show, right? Wrong. “Irma Vep” has seven characters played by only two actors.
The result is a madcap parody of cross-dressing, quick-change artistry and dizzy dialogues in which an actor can end up talking to himself. A hearty congratulation is due to the “running crew” (Caitlyn Macuga, Natividad Salgado and Katie Terpstra) for keeping this ship of fools running on an even keel. And a big round of applause for the outrageous performances of Brian P. Sage and Kevin Young, men of many hats – and wigs. They have set the bar for “teamwork” in the new season.
“The Mystery of Irma Vep” is an adventuresome choice for the Tipping Point and, in the capable hands of director James R. Kuhl, a successful one. Camp, though, is by nature a silly genre and doesn’t need much more silliness to sell it. In fact, it is often at its best when performed with all the earnest conviction of your favorite female impersonator. But fasten your seat belts, you’re in for a funny night!

‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E. Cady St., Northville. Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 9. $28-$30. 248-347-0003.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.