Cal Shakes bid adieu to Jon Moscone in a gay family farce, the beloved artistic director indulging in a splendid exit with ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’ starring Danny Scheie and his classic Scheie-nanigans along with the tall, dark and handsome young Liam Vincent. The campy pair, young and senior yet equally matched, play each and all the parts in this penny dreadful about a haunted English mansion and it’s new mistress of the house trying to come to terms with a larger than life and supposedly dead first wife. The new bride needs to solve the mystery in order to live truly as husband and wife when her husband cannot function under the spectre of his first wife, whose spooky portrait, also Scheie, looms over him. The play was written in 1984 by Charles Ludlam.
Scheie gives it her all with glamorous gowns, girlish skipping and twirling and actressy melodramatic outbursts. ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’, while billed as a gay comedy, needs no such limitation as it’s high spirited family fun and probably bears a G rating, PG at most. The scariest thing would be Scheie’s shaved arm pits and legs but he does wear the Hell out of a curve- hugging red gown. It’s all good fun on a warm summer night although not the uproariously funny performance Scheie is known for.
Related: SF Jazz played live with Buster Keaton’s ‘Go West’ and ‘Maltese Falcon’
It all begins on a sinister note with a dark and stormy night and a magnificent and grand set by Douglas Schmidt, enhanced throughout by howling wolves, thunder and much more from dueling dulcimers to disco and music from ‘Young Frankenstein’ and Frau Blücher. Scheie delights as he lets loose in parts from the crusty peg leg in an overcoat to the sweet and girlish new bride in blond curls to the fuschia haired disco queen with a mummy vault full of high heeled shoes. A particularly clever scene involves Scheie playing the crusty peg leg and the distraught new wife at one time, a bit of very clever staging. Those fans desiring some classic Scheie-nanigans will delight in his twisted pronunciations when he plays an Egyptian princess come back to life, declaring things like sarcoPHAGous.
Related: Ukulele by SF Jazz with Jake Shimabukuro
Liam Vincent swayve and deboner
Tall dark and handsome young Vincent proves to match veteran Scheie’s shameless performance particularly with Vincent’s equestrian fox hunting garb as the dashing and aristocratic self-centered husband. Vincent gets a great solo with his singing on-stage costume change into a Frau Blücheresque suspiciously over-loyal maid, with all the charm and warmth of a guard in a women’s prison. There are some great surprises as this plot-twisted character reveals her secrets in a way that would make Hitchcock proud, as in the mother of Norman Bates. There’s a scene with the knitting basket from Hitchcock’s ‘Dial M for Murder’ with Grace Kelly playing Margot, the victim of an attempted murder by her husband. Or is it a Cal Shakes picnic basket.
‘Irma Vep’ runs to September 6. Tickets range from $15 standing room to $84 premium. Cal Shakes sells $20 tickets on a first come/first served basis the day of the performance and offers various discounts for students/seniors/veterans and groups. Cal Shakes operates a nice complimentary shuttle from Orinda BART and offers complimentary parking on site, along with opening the picnic grounds two hours before curtain. Check out the almost—secret upper grove with a view of the landscaped café roof and outdoor art.
For more information: Cal Shakes