The Mystery of Irma Vep: Yep, Two Actors Did All That!

Tonight was a banner night in the burg.  I began by visiting Greenfield’s People’s Pint, and at 6 pm, every stool was taken at the bar, so I proceeded over to Hope and Olive, where I found a seat at the bar as crowds of diners enjoyed the ambiance, and owner Jim Zaccaro gave me a fist bump. Things were hopping, just like the good old days, it felt good.

Noah Tuleja and Sam Samuels, the fantastic duo of equity actors who brought seven characters to life in The Mystery of Irma Vep, from Silverthorne Theater.
Noah Tuleja and Sam Samuels, the fantastic duo of equity actors who brought eight characters to life in “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” from Silverthorne Theater.

The Mystery of Irma Vep is a Campy, Rollicking Romp to Victorian Vampire Land

I had tickets for a show,  the Mystery of Irma Vep, a play featuring two excellent actors up on the fourth floor of Hawks and Reed, called the Perch.  Have you ever seen this space? It’s a great little theater, almost perfectly built for the Silverthorne Theater Company, and today it’s their permanent home.

The Silverthorne theater experience is almost like concierge service–you are escorted from a tent out front, to the elevator, where the usher shared with me that the show had two gunshots and that it was a 90-minute production, with an intermission. Up in the Perch, there is a bar, and that’s a nice addition.

I was really impressed with the elaborate set when I got to my seat. Technical director and set man John Iverson once again had created a stunning visual layout, it was the library and drawing room of Mandacrest, the Hillcrest estate, and wealthy people lived here–including a dramatic portrait of the blond title character named Irma Vep.  Iverson’s handiwork included a bookshelf that turned into a hidden doorway with a jail cell behind it.  On the walls, a rifle, a ukelele, a piece of Egyptian art,  the sarcophagus and thick cement pavers gave the place its realistic English manner look.  A realistic animated fireplace graced the set.  Sound effects helped solidify the scene, whether it was raindrops or the noise of the tea kettle on the stove.

The show was a Gothic drama, with the pauses, the shrieks, and the English accents that accompany finely written precise dialogue that actors can really have fun with.  There were eight characters, but they were all deftly played by the two heavy hitters–both equity actors, and both extremely talented in accents, memorizing 90 minutes of intense dialogue, and especially, their timing.  Impeccable.

I’ve seen Sam Samuels several times before in his turns with New Century Theatre, especially notable was his performance as a Russian diplomat in A Walk in the Woods in 2019.  Back then I marveled at his spot-on Russian accent, as I did tonight as he made the most of Charles Ludlam’s 1967 Victorian melodrama script.

The dialogue is such marvelous camp fun about vampires, sarcophagi, and his dearly departed ex-wife, who has been replaced by new wife Lady Enid Hillcrest after the suspicious demise of the title character Lady Irma Vep. The Irish maid, Jane Twisden, pines for the days when good old Irma was around, instead of this new wife Enid.

The plot involves an elaborate ruse and layers of complexity. Lord Edgar Hillcrest is an Egyptologist, and part of the show is a short black and white film that begins the second set, again with only the two male actors that help flesh out the story.  This play has a long history, first produced off-off-Broadway in 1984 and was the most produced play in the US in 1991. In fact, in 2003 it set a record as the most-performed play in the history of Brazil!

We are damn lucky to have a professional theater company in Greenfield that has the wisdom to pick such an interesting and challenging play, and that actors like Sam and Noah, with their long theater resumes, choose to live here in the Valley and be a part of the local theater.  If you’re looking for a fun night of theater, you’ve got two more chances to see this marvelous show.

The Mystery of Irma Vep
Saturday and Sunday matinee at Hawks and Reed, Greenfield