The Thrust: The Houses Hold Secrets in This Week’s Funny Shows
In two shows on now, creaking estates teem with family secrets, uncertain deaths, and bloodthirsty beasts. Oh, and they’re also very funny. The Mystery of Irma Vep (Intiman Theatre) and 37 Postcards (The Phoenix Theatre, in Edmonds) both run for two more weekends.
Intiman Theatre: The Mystery of Irma Vep
Intiman Theatre’s season opener is a little more layered than your average farce, but it’s very much in the spirit of one. The satire of the play — which mocks all things serious, especially Victorian stuffiness — is woven throughout. But it’s more the backdrop than the joke, which leaves the biggest laugh lines emanating not from a social commentary, but from the outlandish behavior onstage.
The play by Charles Ludlam is billed as a “penny dreadful” and has a mostly nonsensical plot line — among other things, the first lady of the house may or may not be dead, and a bloodthirsty canine prowls the grounds — and characters bursting out of everywhere. The gimmick is a two-hander, with each actor playing a variety of roles who swap in and out throughout the show. Jesse Calixto and Helen Roundhill gamely hop back and forth between the disparate roles.
Maintaining a decent clip but eschewing frantic quick-changes, director Jasmine Joshua focused instead on amping up the outlandish in other aspects, from the acting to the props to the occasional musical interlude — and they’ve succeeded. Their over-the-top vision for the play succeeds due to buy-in from the actors, who shine brightest as the over-stuffed yet pointedly dainty lady of the house (Calixto) and strong-willed maid (Roundhill); along with playful and detailed design work.
It might strange to describe such a goofy play this way, but Intiman’s production was quite lovely. The scenic design is lush, the costumes are too, and the sound design animated the comedic oddities. The set, designed by Devin Petersen, is kind of like Photo Hunt — you never know what all is hiding or hidden in plain view, like a Batman stained glass window.
You probably won’t do much deep thinking during this play; and you’re actually better off if you don’t try to follow too closely what’s going on. But Irma Vep is a funny show done well, and makes for a fun night. Sometimes that’s all you need.
‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’ runs through 2/26 at Intiman Theatre in Seattle (Capitol Hill). Tickets $25-$65, here. A minimum of 20 free tickets are available at the door for each performance; see info here.
The Phoenix Theatre: 37 Postcards
Nana is alive and well and living in the little room off the kitchen.
Alive-alive, or alive and well like Jacques Brel is? It’s hard to tell, as nothing is quite right at the family estate in 37 Postcards, a 1998 work by Michael McKeever, directed here by Eric Lewis.
It’s evident something is amiss even before the action starts, if you take a good long look at the set; though once things get underway, it’s quickly clear the house is about the least “off” item on stage.
When a wealthy Connecticut family receives a long-overdue visit from the trust fund traveler of a son and his new fiancée, things quickly get complicated. The rest of the household is accustomed to the patchwork of lies that his mother has protected herself with, and they’ve learned to work around them.
But the prodigal son’s return shifts that balance — perhaps even more so than the house has shifted toward a nearby sinkhole.
While he’s still trying to separate truth from fiction, his family reacts in various ways — none of them welcome ones — to his bewildered fiancée. The mom is convinced she’s the maid. The aunt wants to test out her phone sex voice. And the grandma bursts back from the presumed-dead to call her a two-bit whore.
37 Postcards is a play of over-the-top humor in unexpected places, and the women of the family carry the day in this one. Susan Connors plays a very precise, delusional mother who’s at once likable and confounding. Ingrid Sanai Buron plays the lucid and cheery Aunt Ester, who happily accepts all of the madness swirling around her — all-knowing and immune to it all, even in the thick of it. Meanwhile, she’s running a just-shy-of-X-rated phone line for lonely, wealthy octogenarians from the home phone in the other room. Nana — who’s not dead, surprising everyone but the aunt — has few lines, but they’re all zingers; and Artistic Director Melanie Calderwood wonderfully plays Nana’s general disgust in a way that’s somehow endearing. It’s as if Vicki Lawrence’s Mama woke up with a whisky hangover, ready to brawl.
The play is unbalanced, as most of the good laugh lines and character absurdities come in the first (and shorter) act, tapering off toward the end. It introduces a couple of rogue plot points: the dad launches neon golf balls in the middle of the night; and, like in Irma Vep, a bloodthirsty canine prowls the moors here too. But it’s a sweet play, and this production of it — led by the sharp portrayals from Buron, Connors, and Calderwood — is very funny.
‘37 Postcards’ runs through 2/27 at The Phoenix Theatre in Edmonds. Tickets $26, here.
For shows by date, see the Performance Calendar.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.