A Charles Ludlam classic returns wolves, mummies and all
Chris Dell’Armo and Paul Pecorino in Charles Ludlam’s camp classic, “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at Urban Stages through July 15.
By JERRY TALLMER
You can drive a stake through the heart of Irma Vep, but the lady’s going to get out of the mummy case anyway.
If you think that’s a mixed metaphor, you should see the entirety of the late Charles Ludlam’s super-camp 1980s smash, “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” which two aspiring producer/actors have brought back wolves, vampires, mummies, stormy moors, and all for a test run through July 15 at the 74-seat Urban Stages on West 30th Street.
Like Charles Ludlam and Everett Quinton before them, these two chaps Paul Pecorino and Chris Dell’Armo will be taking all the roles, male or female, of this high-mellerdrama penny dreadful that draws for its life’s blood on such luscious anatomies as “Rebecca,” “Wuthering Heights,” Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare, and “The Mummy’s Curse.”
That entails 42 costume changes and split-second timing all down the line including, of course, exits in one gender followed by immediate reentry in the other.
Ludlam, founder and prime mover of Theatre of the Ridiculous, down in the catacombs at 2 Sheridan Square once the venue of Café Society Downtown died of AIDS in 1987. The work was carried on by his boyfriend, the no less brilliant Everett Quinton (whom I once saw do all 20 or 30 roles, solo, of “A Tale of Two Cities”).
A 1998 reprise of “Irma Vep” was manned by Quinton and Stephen DeRosa at the Westside Theatre in 1998, but there has been no other New York City production of Ludlam’s masterwork until now, chiefly because the Ludlam estate and Everett Quinton preferred there to be none.
“Our main problem was to get the rights to do this show,” says Chris Dell’Armo, the taller of the current Two. “Everett said No, twice. He holds this play dear to his heart. Then, after much back and forth, we finally tried a third time and Everett said: ‘Have them call me.’ ”
They searched the Internet for an appropriate director, and found Tony Caselli, who had twice done “Irma Vep,” once at Jeff Daniels’s Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan, and once at the Studio Arena Theater in Buffalo, New York.
“Part of the joy of this show,” says Caselli, “is two guys working their tails off for two hours.”
Dell’Armo plays Lord Edgar, a sort of Maxim De Winter-style moody Egyptologist; and Jane, a sort of Mrs. Danvers-style jealous housekeeper; “and others.”
Pecorino plays Lady Enid, a sort of Joan Fontaine-style replacement wife; and Nicodemus, a grouchy servitor with a wooden leg; “and others.”
And others includes a wolf or two.
Chris Dell’Armo and Paul Pecorino, who are in their middle 30s, met in drama school at Wagner College on Staten Island. Dell’Arno was born in the Bronx; his father worked in Union Carbide’s welding division. Pecorino was born in Gloversville, New York, and his father “who looked exactly like Tony Bennett” “did everything with cars.”
These two latter-day manifesters of “Irma Vep” have day jobs “that we can leave and come back to,” says Dell’Armo, who sells condominiums for Stribling Marketing Associates. Pecorino is a bartender at Xes sex spelled backwards on West 24th Street.
“A number of [tech] people in this production,” says Dell’Armo, “are from our college days. We’re all taking a huge risk. These are previews, so the producers and the Ludlam estate can see what we’ve done. Hopefully it will lead to an Off-Broadway run by the end of October.”
Everett Quinton, who’s working out of town, may not get to see it. But remember, fellas, Charles Ludlam will be watching. As Lady Enid was saying, It’s a terrible thing to marry an Egyptologist and find out he’s hung up on his mummy.
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. By Charles Ludlam. Directed by Tony Caselli. Produced by and starring Chris Dell’Armo and Paul Pecorino. Through July 15 at Urban Stages, 359 West 30th Street, (212) 868-4444.