Not since the legendary duo of Chuck Goad and LeBron Benton who starred in “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful” at Phoenix Theatre in 1991, has this writer seen two actors have as much fun on stage together as Rob Johansen and Marcus Truschinski. They are the stars of the current Indiana Repertory Theatre production of Charles Ludlam’s comedy now playing on the Upperstage through Feb. 14.
The rambunctious farce consummately directed by IRT playwright-in-residence James Still, was first produced by Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre Company off-Broadway in 1984. It’s set in England at the turn of the century on an estate called Mandacrest and in various locations in Egypt. A satirical wacky combination of everything from a Hitchcock film (Rebecca) to Victorian melodrama to a vampire and werewolf, there is even a little Taylor Swift (yes, you read that correctly) thrown in for good measure.
Johansen, one of Indy’s most popular actors, works regularly at the IRT and the Phoenix Theatre. Truschinski, a core company member of American Players Theatre in Green Springs, Wisconsin, played Sherlock Holmes in “Hound of the Baskervilles” last season at IRT. In this laugh riot, the two perform multiple roles which include Johansen as Nicodemus Underwood and Lady Enid Hillcrest, and Truschinski as Jane Twisdon and Lord Edgar Hillcrest.
As Johansen and Truschinski executed 30 lightning speed costume changes, all the while demonstrating impeccable timing, the two master comedians were a marvel to behold as they transformed from persona to persona with seemingly relative ease. Seen by this writer Friday on opening night, the two even engaged in a bit of improvisation with some audience members—an added treat indeed.
Adding to the richness of the spectacle that is “The Mystery of Irma Vep” are the show’s production elements which include scenic designer Tom Buderwitz’s great hall in Mandacrest and tomb in Egypt; lighting designer Betsy Cooprider Bernstein’s mysterious and foreboding atmospheres; Guy Clark’s tongue-in-cheek costumes which pay homage to the rigid Victoria era; and sound designer Lindsay Jones’ organ heavy score which replicates those of classic films referenced in the show.
One doesn’t have to be familiar with all the genres that are hilariously spoofed in the show to fully enjoy it because the physical antics (think Carol Burnett and Tim Conway) performed by Johansen and Truschinski are enough to keep one consumed with laughter. Be prepared, however, to suspend all belief because what is presented is utter nonsense and pure escapism delivered by two artists whose rib-tickling performances are guaranteed to delight and entertain.
For tickets and information about “The Mystery of Irma Vep” call the Indiana Repertory Theatre Box Office at (317) 635-2391 or visit irtlive.com.