Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 12, 2013

The Mystery of Irma Vep

Panache Productions, Springfield, MA
By K. J. Rogowski

To truly enjoy the plot and purpose of Panche Productions’ current show, Charles Ludlams’  “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” the audience needs to make note of a key line in the play’s title, in the small print, which reads “a penny dreadful." Wikipedia defines the term as: “a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction…” With that firmly in mind, all of the silliness, improbable plot twists and melodramatic carrying on makes nearly perfect sense, which is as close as it has to come to make for an evening of fun and laughs.

The setting for the action is, of course, the classic…"it was a dark and stormy night" at the old Hillcrest estate, complete with abundant thunder and lightening. The cast of eight outrageous characters is carried off by only two actors, Mark Ekenbarger and Robert Laviolette, who are, at one moment, a maid named Jane and a groundskeeper named Nicodemus. The actors then dash off stage and back on stage to become Lord and Lady Edgar Hillcrest. More dashing takes place as they become… well, the audience gets the idea.

These multiple changes are handled nicely, with the help of a three person backstage dressers' crew, who transform their actors back on stage in time to keep the action flowing. The set design by Robert Laviolette, who also directs the show, carries the penny dreadful theme through the comedy with portraits that come alive, secret panels, and an Egyptian tomb, complete with a golden sarcophagus. This fast paced and comically convoluted plot takes participants on a pulp fiction adventure from the moors at Hillcrest to the deserts of Egypt, in an effort to discover just what “The Mystery of Irma Vep” actually is.