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A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” a delightful comedy, on March 10, 2017 for a run through April 2.  The play, which was written by Charles Ludlam (1943 —1987), premiered in 1984, won an Obie Award in 1985 for ensemble performance, and was the most produced play in the United States in 1991.

16806773_10155428604450663_2820147419356535756_nThe production is fast-paced and the casting is unconventional, with two actors portraying seven characters, each appearing in both male and female roles. Split-second costume changes are required throughout, along with special effects and props. In the process, Chris MacEwan and Lucas Hopper win the audience’s undivided attention with their incredible timing and comedic skills. Both actors are blessed with expressive faces and both give performances filled with warmth and passion. And humor; the play is incredibly funny.

Lucas Hopper made his debut at Limelight in “The Boys Next Door,” and has since appeared in five plays in a variety of challenging roles in Jacksonville.

17017010_10155462798530663_5788361358517582204_oChris MacEwan previously appeared as Tom Joad in Limelight’s highly acclaimed “The Grapes of Wrath.” Before moving to St. Augustine with his wife and children, he appeared on stage in Buffalo and NYC in plays such as “The Mousetrap” and “Macbeth.” He is an active board member of the Limelight Theatre Board of Directors.

Ludlam’s campy plot is a melodrama/farce filled with werewolves, mummies, vampires, and ghosts, with multiple allusions from film and literature, including the works of Alfred Hitchcock, William Shakespeare, and Daphne du Maurier.

The first act takes place in England at Mandacrest Estate where Lord Hillcrest (Hooper) has brought his new wife, Lady Enid (MacEwan). Marital problems arise because Hillcrest remains devoted to Irma Vep, his deceased first wife. Hillcrest’s has two servants, his big-hipped housekeeper Jane (Hooper) and the scruffy Nicodemus (MacEwan), who is a swineherd. Jane views Lady Enid as an intruder and Nicodemus as an uneducated dolt, and is antagonistic toward both. Evidence of threatening supernatural beings abound.

The second act was the funniest. With all the elements of farce firmly in place, Hillcrest, who is a famous Egyptologist, travels to Egypt to explore a tomb where he hopes to find the secrets of immortality. Part of this hilarious scene takes place in the midst of the audience, as Alcazar (MacEwan) assists Hillcrest in reaching and exploring the burial chamber.

Be prepared for twists and turns in the plot. Some of the jokes are a bit corny so in addition to laughing, feel free to boo or moan at intervals; the Sunday audience did. We will leave the details and the surprise ending for your discovery.

Matthew Whaley, in his directing debut at Limelight, displays tremendous care and show business savvy with the production of this romp. Whaley has previously stage-managed three Limelight shows; he has also been seen on stage in several productions.

The teamwork of those involved with “Irma Vep” was remarkable. The Victorian set by designer Domenic Grasso is wonderfully campy and is filled with surprises. Limelight’s Executive Director Beth LambertBeth Lambert is listed in the program as the “Costume Hunter/Gatherer,” a challenging responsibility, as all the costumes had to be constructed to support quick changes. Kudos go to Stage Manager Amanda Arany, Assistant Stage Manager Courtney Forshee, and Stagehand Jennifer Farrow for their backstage work which had the right costumes and wigs needed for scene after scene after scene. 

Additional Production Crew members included: Carl Liberatore (Lighting Designer), Shellie Long (Properties Supervisor), Ryan Walker (Light & Sound Board Operator), and Nancy Grasso (Lead Set Painter).

Don’t miss “The Mystery of Irma Vep.” This show is a satirical melodrama: clever, gothic, a little bit naughty, and a whole lot of fun. Call 904-825-1164 or visit for reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.