THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Review – Piccolo Theatre’s “Commedia dell'arte” Meets “Penny Dreadful”

It was a dark and stormy night alright—by design. As the director, Michael D. Graham, describes it in his program notes, the Piccolo Theatre crazies (I call them that with all due affection and admiration!) Ben Muller and Brandon Johnson are attempting to reprise the performance of author Charles Ludlam:


“An astonishing tour-de-force in which two performers...portrayed men, women and an assortment of monsters in a full-length quick-change act. The Mystery of Irma Vep was inspired by the "penny dreadful," that quintessentially Victorian mélange of sensationalism and sublime poetry. Ludlam …introduced a vampire, a werewolf and an Egyptian mummy into his usual assortment of jokes and puns, trademark stage business such as cross-dressing and billowing fog, and literary references… An uproarious, thought-provoking paean to love everlasting, The Mystery of Irma Vep garnered praise, awards, adoring audiences… Armed with strong opinions and big plans, Ludlam set out to remake all the theatrical arts…”


Two Piccolo players (Benjamin Muller (Piccolo Theatre Ensemble Member) and Brandon Johnson) pull off all the faux horror, ingenious travel and broad humor. Wait till you see how they get to and from Egypt—and all the split second costume, scene, sex and species (a vampire IS a species, right?) changes–– on the tiny stage! One of the most delightful, surefire charms of the Piccolo Theatre is their creative use of their minuscule space. 


And another delight is the fact that the Piccolo Theatre lives in our neighborhood.  While we were walking to our home from their home at the Evanston Main Street Metra station, we met a neighbor, Darren, who was nice enough to share his review with us.  This was his first Piccolo play, so he got the full experience!


“I thought it was spectacular.  It was surprisingly good. I’ve never been to this theater before or this production company and I didn’t know what to expect. So it all was a complete surprise.


I thought the acting was outstanding, the set—the whole presentation was very, very impressive… I appreciate the arts and I’ve been to many performances over many, many years but I’m not a theater person myself. I live in the neighborhood and I take that train so I‘m aware of the theater from taking that train.”


It is always a marvel to see how creatively the “Piccolo People” use the limited space at hand.  After a while I just completely forget about the size of the room because of their imaginative use of space and time.  And in the case of The Mystery of Irma Vep, the costumes (don’t miss the hairy chest where the cleavage should be on Lady Enid’s night gown!), scenery and props are a gas!


Directed by Michael Graham; cast includes Benjamin Muller (Piccolo Theatre Ensemble Member) and Brandon Johnson, with Nicholas Caesar and Peter Ash, understudies. 



The Mystery of Irma Vep performances run September 6 - October 12;

All performances are Friday and Saturday at 8PM, and Sunday at 3PM.

Ticket prices: $25 (adults), $22 (seniors), $15 (students), $10 (Children 10 and younger).

Group discounts are available for all performances.

For tickets and more information, call the Box Office at (847) 424-0089, or visit.

 Piccolo Theatre, 600 Main Street, Evanston, IL60202.  Box Office 847-424-0089

[email protected]


Robert Erving Potter III






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