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The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful

The Mystery of Irma Vep


If you enjoy outrageous campy farces, like The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, you’re bound to enjoy the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown production of the hilarious satire of theatrical and literary genres, The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam, playing through September 14. The quick-change, cross-dressing antics of veteran comic actors, Scott Treadway and Preston Dyar, will keep you in stitches as they make fun of and celebrate genres such as Victorian melodrama, Wuthering Heights, and the Alfred Hitchcock film, Rebecca. Ludlam even has fun with the title, which is a character from the 1915 French movie serial, Les Vampires and the subtitle, which refers to the penny dreadful, a fiction publication popular in 19th century Britain that featured off-color serial stories, costing a penny a piece.

The action takes place on a stereotypical dark and stormy night at the estate of Lord Edgar, an Egyptologist (Dyar), and his recently wedded second-wife, Lady Enid (Treadway). As Enid adjusts to her new life in the country, she is concerned that Edgar has yet to recover from the mysterious death of his first wife, Irma Vep, whose portrait still hangs over the fireplace.

Much like the Greater Tuna Series, the actors in The Mystery of Irma Vep take on numerous characters and costume changes as the two actors play eight characters of both sexes. The comedy includes references to (or appearances by) vampires, ghosts, mummies and werewolves and is largely acceptable for younger audiences.

The Mystery of Irma Vep was first produced by Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Opening off-off-Broadway in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1984, the farce, which ran for over two years, originally starred Ludlam and his partner Everett Quinton.

Any further description might give some of the plays puns and sight gags away. Suffice it to say that Treadway steals the show as he infuses his characters with expertly timed pratfalls and eye rolls as he trips effortlessly through the plot. Dyar also draws consistent laughter, acting mostly as a straight man to Treadway’s antics. The play’s nonstop action is aptly directed by Flat Rock Playhouse guest director, Kenneth Kay, and expertly designed by scenic designer, Dennis Maulden. The show also owes much of its success to the campy costumes designed by Ashli Arnold.

Performances of The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown through September 14 will be held Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm, with matinees Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. All tickets are $40 and can be purchased by calling the Playhouse box office at 828-693-0731, toll-free at 866-732-8008 or online at

Discounts are available for seniors, AAA members, military personnel, students and groups. The Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown is located at 125 S. Main Street, Hendersonville, NC 28739.