Review: “Mystery of Irma Vep” at Main Street

I ventured down to Griffin last weekend, to see the Main Street Players production of The Mystery of Irma Vep, a show I’d read but never seen on stage. And, having never seen a Main Street production – that was also an enticement. They have a great, funky little space right there in the heart of downtown. It’s a converted storefront, with perhaps 80 seats – so intimate, which is always fine. The space is cozy and well cared for – it’s evident as soon as you walk in the door that this company is a labor beloved.

The ringleader must be founding Artistic Director – and Director, of the show – Norma Richardson. If so, I’d say she runs a tight ship there at Main Street. Wine, at the Bar. Lobby, well dressed. Ushers, very helpful.

As for the show itself…I enjoyed it. If you don’t know the work of camp comedian Charles Ludlum, well…it’s always a hoot. He specializes in taking on classic genres – like, in the case of Irma, gothic melodrama – twisting and turning them into small gleaming vessels of modern mayhem – little master classes of wit with wonderful wacky roles.

Oh, and, cross dressing and fast costume changes – both well utilized here. A cast of 8 characters – played by 2 actors. Let’s talk about them. We meet Curtis Brown first, in the character of Jane Twisden. She’s the housekeeper, and as played by Brown, a perfectly upright, uptight English maid of all work. He’ll go on to play the Lord of the manor too, and in both roles gives solid performances, nicely nuanced in many places.

Not at all nuanced was the work of Walker Davis, who also dons a skirt to play Mistress of the Manor Lady Enid and, the somewhat sinister handyman Nicodemus. Davis goes for broke in both roles, playing it up and having a ball and that’s just fine. It’s the sort of show that calls for big broad acting, as long as it’s underlaid and restrained by tight direction. No, we don’t mind a bit that there is much wringing of hands… In fact, the times that this show really came alive was when mayhem – the real, unscripted sort, as in, when THINGS GO WRONG – threatened. When the show goes off the rails, and the actors had to react – that’s when the fun really happened.

When brings me back to Ms. Richardson, the Director. Because what I saw was competent but rarely inspired direction. She kept the show moving but, it never soared.  Fun, yes, but not inspired.

MUST give a big shoutout to the Scenic Design by BJ Hughes. Damn, it was good. In a small, tight space he achieved a beautifully crafted and decorated set, an eminently practical set and if that wasn’t enough, designed a whole ‘nother one for Act Two, that rotated into the compact area with seeming ease. Very, very impressive.

More shoutouts to the Dressers – all three – who kept the action moving with the required lighting fast costume changes. Good job, ladies.

I’ll go back to Griffin to see another Main Street show.

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