Deliriously dopey

Deliriously dopey
The Mystery of Irma Vep
Through Oct. 31 at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows
8267 International Drive

The latest offering in Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show's "It's No Mystery!" series is, ironically enough, The Mystery of Irma Vep. The show is set in the year 1890, on a dark and stormy night — as it so often is in this sort of story. Mandacrest, the countryside estate of the Hillcrest dynasty, is being tended to by the family's loyal servants: Jane Twisden (Joshua Eads-Brown) is the French maid with an Irish brogue and a flaming-red fright wig; Nicodemus Underwood (Doug Ba'aser) is the horny handyman hobbled by a wooden leg. Between dusting the make-believe mantelpiece and fetching fresh turtle eggs, the pair deliver eccentric exposition peppered with deliciously stupid double entendres.

Their master, Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Eads-Brown again), an Egyptology expert who is a little too into his mummy, has recently acquired a new lady of the manor. Hillcrest's wife, Enid (also Ba'aser), is a chlorine-blond chorine given to flouncing about the mansion in a feathered robe and making sinister pronouncements such as "Sleep is murdered" and "The lights are dimming." Hanging over the proceedings — literally and figuratively — is the visage of Edgar's late first wife, Irma Vep, who succumbed in a footbridge-related fatality too horrible even to be whispered of. The dark forces afoot in the woods have already claimed Lady Hillcrest and their young son, Victor (named after their pet wolf, naturally); now they threaten Edgar and his hired help. Could lycanthropy, vampirism or the "black arts" be to blame? Hard to say for sure. As Jane says, it's hard getting folks to believe in the supernatural when they barely believe in the natural anymore.

Playwright Charles Ludlam's 1984 script is a lovingly satirical sendup of Victorian Gothic melodramas and mystery movies like Hitchcock's Rebecca. But you don't need to be familiar with the source material to appreciate this cross-dressing comedy, whose tone lands somewhere between Scooby-Doo and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Director Christine Robison has crafted a Rube Goldbergian contraption of clever costume quick changes, flickering silent-movie snippets and ominous orchestral stings. And Ba'aser and Eads-Brown are to be commended for keeping up with their profuse character switching without loosing their loopy light touch. This "penny dreadful" costs a bit more than a cent ($17, to be exact), but as a drawing-room chiller it delivers dreadfully well.

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