Understanding the Mystery of Irma Vep

by Director Philip Cuomo

Third Rail Core Company member Philip Cuomo gives us some insights into directing the very funny and challenging The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam. Be sure to bring the whole family to this hilarious, quick-change romp of a play, December 5, 2014 – January 10, 2015. 

Welcome to The Mystery of Irma Vep.  Playwright Charles Ludlam refers to his play as a Penny Dreadful, which (according to our crack dramaturgical team) is a 19th-century British publication that featured lurid serial stories, each part costing a penny—as opposed to Dickens’ work that cost a shilling. Charles (I feel like he wouldn’t mind me calling him by his first name) used a vast array of elements that would attract readers of Popular (with a capitol P) culture in the 19th century: monsters, mummies, vampires, werewolves, etc.  The play embraces the romantic, the gothic, the melodramatic and, most fully, the ridiculous. In fact, Charles named the theatre company that he founded and ran for 20 years The Ridiculous Theatre Company.  (For more insight into Charles and his company, check out the article on the next page.)

In Irma Vep, Charles writes one opulent detail on top of another all in service of celebrating the form of the Penny Dreadful; all to delight and entertain today’s audience.  His advice on how to do this?  “Take things very seriously, especially focusing on those things held in low esteem by society and revealing them, giving them new meaning, new worth…”

Wonderful!  To be given permission to take monsters, mummies, werewolves, and vampires so seriously and to revel in their magic. To work on moments requiring outlandish commitment, revealing how dangerous, scary, and dramatic living and loving truly are, and how we must pursue our need for love and so live boldly and shamelessly.  Amazing!

Producing Irma Vep is a magnificent opportunity for Third Rail to ply our craft to the fullest, to embrace high-wire derring-do, and stretch our imaginations in order to create Charles’ amazing, ridiculous world.  No matter how serious or ridiculous, Charles has written a sensational entertainment that we have the pleasure to share with you, sharing the same space and breathing the same air so that together we can manifest wonder and mystery. What a gift.