There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
There are two downright side-splitting moments in Arena Stage’s The Mystery of Irma Vep—which, considering that it’s a passionately overripe sendup of Hollywood genre flicks, isn’t as many as you’d hope. Of course, Arena hasn’t so much produced the show as overproduced it: It looks like a million bucks. (OK, a million bucks spent by a colorblind tranny hooker. With substance-abuse issues. But still.) The sets are elaborate—an expansively gloomy drawing room, moonlit heath visible through tall French doors, for the scenes at Mandacrest, where poor Lady Enid (a grandly flustered Brad Oscar) battles insomnia, not to mention the Mrs. Danvers-esque housekeeper (a deliciously severe J. Fred Shiffman) who keeps vigil at Lady Enid’s husband’s first wife’s vengeful portrait. (Lost? Dig out your CliffsNotes to Rebecca; it’s all there.) Later, it’s a black-lit disco of a Pharaoh’s tomb for that Act 2 archaeological excursion, in which said husband (Shiffman again) revives and then romances a 3,000-year-old mummy (Oscar again) whose first stiff-necked utterance upon awakening is “Cairo…Cairo…Cairo…practor.” And if you think the sets are grand—sweet suffering RuPaul, the costumes: There’s an entire High Heel Race worth of increasingly baroque gowns, with one get-up alone consuming what somebody said was 60-odd yards of ruffled taffeta—in a particularly eye-bleeding mix of fuchsias. All this for a madcap frolic originally staged on the cheap in a West Village basement? Quick changes are the order of the day, with Shiffman and Oscar playing seven or eight or maybe nine characters between them (oh, please, you try keeping track), and mostly they come off cleanly. Too cleanly? Maybe; it all seems a tad careful. Or maybe it’s that the two aren’t quite in the same show; Shiffman’s mostly playing things straight, with nary a wink at the material, while Oscar can’t resist a mug here and a comment there. Neither’s wrong, necessarily, though the former works best—and they certainly don’t mix easily. Oh, so those two genuine howlers? Well, it’s a hoot when Lady Enid, who’s donned the Hoop Skirt That Ate Cleveland in hopes of rekindling the flames of romance with her bookish husband, is forced to put the frock in reverse—to the sound of a dump-truck back-up beep—to get the damn thing out of the drawing room. And then, during that hurried Act 2 set change, it’s a scream when the 9-foot-tall mummy case falls over, startling everyone in the audience and pushing out the red-velvet curtain so it looks like the stage is pregnant. Wait, that didn’t happen except on opening night? Shame, that: It brings the funny-moment count down to just one.