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The Mystery of Irma Vep

A high camp staging with werewolves, Egyptian magic, and a dead lady named Irma. What else do you need?

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Through Feb. 23

Admission is $18-28

861-8972

The New Conservatory Theater, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F.

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This nearly indestructible "penny dreadful" by Charles Ludlam, about a Victorian household cursed by werewolves, Egyptian magic, and the memory of a dead lady named Irma, has been perfectly revived by director Arturo Catricala. Lee Corbett plays Lord Edgar, the Egyptologist, as well as the snobbish, redoubtable maidservant Jane Twisden; Patrick Michael Dukeman plays Edgar's new wife, Lady Enid, the peg-legged servant Nicodemus, and others. The whole point of putting on the show is to make the audience forget -- and then remember -- that two actors are jumping in and out of costume; Catricala makes sure we hear Velcro ripping in the wings. Lady Enid feels odd in Edgar's drafty house because a portrait of Edgar's dead wife, Irma Vep, hangs reverently over the fireplace. Wolves howl on the heath, and family members have been mysteriously shredded in the snow. What else do you need? It's like Poe on helium. Corbett does especially good work as Jane Twisden, with a fluttery falsetto, and Dukeman's strongest role is Nicodemus, the wretched hunchback. ("Don't look down yer nose at me, lady; we're made from the same bolt o' goods," he says to Jane.) The New Conservatory generally does better with high camp than with soft sentiment, and Irma Vep leaves no room on the stage for sap.

 
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