Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Mystery of Irma Vep - A Penny Dreadful
Curio Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebecca's review of Buried Child

Richard Bradford and Paul Kuhn
Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas
Curio Theatre Company opens its 15th season with Charles Ludlum's farcical spoof on gothic horror, The Mystery of Irma Vep - A Penny Dreadful. A scary good set and a few hilarious moments are elements to enjoy in this lighthearted romp through a dark manor populated by strange characters, ominous secrets, and deadly creatures. But director Steve Wright's inconsistent production leaves much to be desired, particularly where the humor is concerned.

Almost all of the action in The Mystery of Irma Vep takes place at Mandacrest Estate, on a perpetually stormy moor. The mistress of the manor has died and master Edgar is returning with his new wife, young Lady Enid. With the help of their one-legged groundskeeper and quick-witted housekeeper, the lord and his new lady combat vampires, werewolves, and Egyptian mummies all before their first anniversary.

Paul Kuhn and Rich Bradford play all of the characters with myriad quick changes and a host of funny accents. In a stroke of genius, Bradford plays Mandacrest's housekeeper Jane Twisden as a no-nonsense Jamaican woman, delivering a line about virginity being "the carnival balloon of life" that is ridiculously amusing. Kuhn is at his funniest as young and frivolous Lady Enid, chattering on about her diet and days on the stage. While Kuhn and Bradford both have funny moments, they do not have any chemistry together and the jokes that rely on their interactions fall flat. That lack of chemistry undoubtedly contributes to the production's most serious problem: It is just not funny enough to be a successful farce.

Pacing problems also keep the show from being a comedic success. Some of the lines are delivered so quickly they do not have time to land, and some of the scene changes take so long it is hard to stay attentive. Technical limitations mean that the quick changes really aren't quick enough to get laughs. Other problems are harder to pin down. In a comedy like Irma Vep, every withering glance, entrance, exit and error should be an opportunity to land a joke. Wright's production suffers from an excess of missed opportunities.

Curio Theatre Company's production is not as funny as it should be, but for $15-$30 it is still a fun night of theater.

The Mystery of Irma Vep - A Penny Dreadful runs through November 23, 2019, at Curio Theatre Company, Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia PA. $10 student rush tickets are sold at the door at 7:50 p.m. before each performance. For tickets and information, visit or call 215-921-8243.

Paul Kuhn
Rich Bradford

Director: Steven Wright
Scenic Design: Paul Kuhn
Costume Design: Aetna Gallagher
Lighting Designer: Nathan Hart