Gothic spoof ‘Irma Vep’ is over-the-top, campy fun

Courtesy of the Jungle Theater/Michal Daniel
Stephen Cartmell as Jane and Bradley Greenwald as Nicodemus in the Jungle's “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”

While theater can and does make us think, transforms us and enlightens us, sometimes that’s not what we want. Sometimes we want to go someplace and laugh. That’s what “The Mystery of Irma Vep” is for. Now playing at the Jungle, Charles Ludlam’s Gothic spoof is over-the-top, full-speed-ahead, silly, campy fun.

It’s also a remarkable piece of fancy theatrical footwork. Two hyper and tireless actors, Bradley Greenwald and Stephen Cartmell, play eight different characters of both sexes, often within seconds of each other and sometimes simultaneously. The lunacy onstage must be exponentially crazier backstage, where dozens of lightning-fast costume changes take place involving elaborate gowns, an English gentleman’s attire, wigs, false teeth, a hump, werewolf paws and various body parts, some wearing sequined pasties. Meanwhile, the actors have microseconds to switch attitudes, accents, postures and facial expressions from lord to housemaid to vampire, from lady to swineherd to Egyptian princess.

Don’t worry too much about the story, which is set in the Victorian era in a manor house on the moors. Trying to make sense of it will distract you from the nonstop jokes (some off-color) and the rapid-fire references to everything from pop culture to Shakespeare. Just enjoy the acting, the elaborate set (with taxidermy and French doors that open to fog and howling winds), the sound effects, and the direction by Joel Sass, who has passed this way before. Sass and the Jungle first staged “Irma Vep” in 2010, with Steven Epps preceding Cartmell. The set is Sass’ from four years back. If you saw the play then, you may also remember Barry Browning’s lights and Matthew LeFevre’s costumes. “This, in a nutshell, is the notion of repertory at the Jungle,” artistic director Bain Boehlke wrote in his program notes. It’s a more than satisfying start to Boehlke’s final season with the theater he founded and has led for 25 years. Through Oct. 19. FMI and tickets ($25-$43).

The Twin Cities chamber ensemble The Musical Offering has announced its 44th season, four Sunday afternoons featuring the music of Vienna from 1780–1930 including a “Mozartiade,” with refreshments. All events take place at Hamlin’s Sundin Music Hall. Oct. 12: works by Haydn, Szervansky, and Brahms’ autumnal Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor. Dec. 7: music by Hugo Wolf, Matiegka and Hummell, with guest guitarist Christopher Kachian. Feb. 8, 2015: Mozart’s most-loved chamber works, plus Viennese desserts and beverages. April 26: TMO bids adieu to Vienna with works by Beethoven, Alban Berg, Milhaud and Martinu. Subscription and individual tickets are on sale now.

The Minnesota Orchestra has been much in the news lately, here and elsewhere. New leadership, new openness and optimism, and new money (more than $13.2 million in donations over the summer) are all sunny preludes to a new season that begins this Friday with a benefit gala featuring soprano Renée Fleming, continues Sept. 13 and 14 with a season sampler concert and a free concert at Lake Harriet, then kicks off with the official season opener concerts Sept. 26–28. This will be the orchestra’s first full season in three years, and the choice of music for the final weekend in September – Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony – is a “we’re back” statement like no other. The program also includes Barber’s Cello Concerto with guest cellist Alisa Weilerstein, whom some of us will remember from a concert at the Southern Theater in 2011, when she played Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 and nobody in the audience breathed.

If you go to a season opener concert, plan to arrive early for musical performances in the lobby, trivia contests, and other fun stuff coordinated by Orchestrate Excellence and Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN). And don’t run to your car the minute the concert ends. Champagne will be served in the lobby, and musicians will come out to sign CDs and say hey.

Athough we keep hoping for a Minnesota winner of “Project Runway” or “Top Chef,” we’ll have to be content this season with Minnesota connections to “Survivor” and “The Biggest Loser.” Reed Kelly, son of former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, will compete on “Survivor” starting Sept. 24, and past Lynx player Vanessa Hayden will be among 20 former athletes on “The Biggest Loser” starting Sept. 11. Last season, Stillwater High School graduate Rachel Frederickson shed pounds on the weight-focused show. We never want to see any of you on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

What we’re reading: Rohan Preston’s article on actor/playwright James T. Alfred, whose “A Brown Tale” opens Saturday at the Capri.

The Picks

Wednesday at SubText Books: Sharon Smith presents “Murder on a Stick.” Had enough of the Fair? As if. Smith’s third Pete Culnane mystery crisscrosses the Twin Cities and travels from the fairgrounds to Rochester. 7 p.m. Free.

Wednesday at the Dakota: Nachito Herrera Presents a Special Evening with Habaneros. Herrera is the incendiary Cuban pianist who often plays at the Dakota; Habeneros is a quintet of musicians (clarinet and string quartet) from the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. Free and open to the public, this event is a dress rehearsal for a multimedia and musical performance featuring film and images of Cuba and Cuban-influenced classics. 7 p.m. Reservations highly recommended; call 612-332-1010.

Thursday at Common Good Books: Chris Farrell presents “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life.” The “Marketplace Money” man considers the economics of an aging workforce. Apparently fewer of us will move to Phoenix and more will stay here, still working. 7 p.m. Free.

Thursday–Sunday in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: Artist-Designed Mini Golf. The Walker has extended this popular … what to call it? Sport? Exhibit? Activity? Experience? … through Sept. 28. Tee up and take it from us that the Tilting Maze hole is harder than it looks. Thursdays 5–10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.–8 p.m. $9–$18. Your ticket includes free gallery admission. FMI. On the fence? The Sculpture Garden will be closed July 2015–Fall 2016 for reconstruction and renovation, so it’s now-or-a-lot-later.

The Weekend

Friday in the Jax Building in Lowertown: The Show.” The grand opening of a nonprofit arts organization that means to exhibit works by artists from all walks of life, with a focus on artists with disabilities. Part gallery, part retail store, part community space, The Show is located inside the Three Sisters Eclectic Arts in the Jax Bldg. until a larger, wheelchair-accessible space is built in the new Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. 253 E. 4th St., St. Paul. 6–9 p.m., with music, live painting, food and wine. Some of the artists will be present.

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