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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Postmodern Collage

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CharlesLudlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful has been a huge success since its debut in 1984. It’s a lightningquick comedy featuring intellectual absurdity, cross-dressing, quick changes and an entire cast played by two characters.

Simultaneously highbrow and lowbrow, the play is a campy, postmodern collage that has proven to be remarkably durable over the past two decades. Beginning April 3, Next Act Theatre launches a production of Ludlam’s idiosyncratic masterpiece starring John McGivern and Christopher Tarjan, and directed by Next Act Producing Artistic Director David Cecsarini.

Speaking with Cecsarini, McGivern and Tarjan before a rehearsal, one gets the impression that the show is in good hands. We sat down to talk at Next Act’s rehearsal space amid strange props, including a sarcophagus, on a floor that was marked-off with enough tape to mummify a good-sized adult. The three men at the center of this production have developed sophisticated senses of communication and humor, which is vital for the bewilderingly sophisticated Vep. Within the script, they have found a patchwork of lines cannibalized from numerous other plays, yet that dialogue is spoken by characters attempting to be serious in a supremely absurd plot. The comedy’s serious base weaves itself into a production that is very campy.

True to the spirit of the script, Next Act’s production will focus on the serious aspects of the characters and let the comedy work its way in. At rehearsal, they were still working out the technical specifics of the production’s costume changes and precise timing. Tarjan and McGivern are proven commodities in the world of comedic acting, but they said that they would be doing little more than standing onstage “pointing at their asses” were it not for the substantial talent of Cecsarini, a man cunning enough to keep things organized in this challenging play.

Next Act’s production of The Mystery of Irma Vep runs April 3 through May 25 at the Off-Broadway Theatre.