The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

June 8, 2006

'The Mystery of Irma Vep' Opens Iowa Summer Rep's 'Summer Camp' June 22

"The Mystery of Irma Vep" by Charles Ludlam will launch "Summer Camp": Iowa Summer Rep 2006 at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 22, in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Other performances will be at 8 p.m. June 23 and 24; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, June 25; 8 p.m. June 27 and 28; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 2; and 8 p.m. July 5 and 7-9.

Ludlam's 1984 gothic spoof for his Ridiculous Theatrical Company might be offered as Exhibit A in any definition of theatrical "camp." With two actors, each performing four roles that require rapid-fire changes of costumes, wigs and personalities, Ludlam borrows freely from popular films, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Poe, Plato, Oscar Wilde and even Omar Khayyam. Parody, vaudeville, farce, melodrama and satire collide in silly combinations.

"'The Mystery of Irma Vep' is a spoof on melodrama -- in particular, on Victorian gothic horror," says director Rachel Edwards Harvith, who acted in Iowa Summer Rep last season and is a UI Master of Fine Arts candidate in directing. "But it is as intelligent a spoof as they come. Ludlam draws inspiration (and many times quotes and entire scenes!) from such varied sources as Daphne duMaurier's 'Rebecca,' Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights,' James Joyce's 'Ulysses' and the cult classic penny dreadful, 'Varney the Vampyre.'

"The true wonder of the play, however, is the fact that it is pulled off by two amazing actors, each of whom plays four characters, both male and female.  Ludlam describes 'Vep' as 'a full-length quick-change act,' and he isn't kidding. There are a total of 48 quick changes in the show, most of which have to be accomplished in seconds. In this sense, the show becomes just as much about the way the story is told as about the story itself. The story celebrates man's ability to overcome the demons of the past and triumph over 'the beast within,' but the production celebrates two men having the virtuosity (and energy!) to pull the whole event off. 'Vep' promises to be an evening of laughter, chills and endless surprises."

Some of the show's many regional and international productions have dispensed with the two-actor conceit that was at the heart of Ludlam's original concept. But the Iowa Summer Rep remains true to it with Equity Actor Jim VanValen (Max in "Lend Me a Tenor" last season -- learn more at and UI graduate directing student Sean Paul Bryan (who WAS the tenor in that popular production).

For director Harvith, the chance to direct "The Mystery of Irma Vep" in Iowa Summer Rep is a dream come true. "I saw a production of 'The Mystery of Irma Vep' for the first time when I was in eighth grade," she explains. "I will never forget it. It was the first time a live production really grabbed hold of me, had me literally on the edge of my seat, shaking with laughter and wondering what would happen next. It was the first time I felt like I was not merely watching something, but was a part of something. This is the power of live theatre."

Other artistic contributors to "The Mystery of Irma Vep" include scene designer William Moser, costume designer Jenny Nutting Kelchen, lighting designer S. Benjamin Farrar and sound designer Scott Pardue.

Iowa Summer Rep is an U/RTA (University/Resident Theatre Association) company employing Equity actors and stage managers, as well as students who earn points toward their Actors Equity card.

Iowa Summer Rep has carved out a unique niche in American professional summer theater by presenting single-playwright festivals. This season Iowa Summer Rep is deviating from that formula by presenting works in a single genre, by two playwrights.

"Our single-playwright summer festivals are a popular and wonderful tradition in Iowa City," artistic director Eric Forsythe wrote in his welcome letter for the Summer Rep playbill. "I look forward to each festival with great pleasure, particularly so this year because I'm such a fan of the playwrights. Yes, that's 'playwrights' with an 's!' This year we've selected plays by two contemporary playwrights whose work is related stylistically and in the "camp" tradition.

"The season as a whole revels in the world of humor, nostalgia, wit and irony. In a year of divisiveness and stress, it's been wonderful for us to find refuge in work with so much laughter and wit. . . . Iowa Summer Rep is the first company to present these two playwrights in their own season together. "

Joining "The Mystery of Irma Vep" in "Summer Camp" are Ludlam's "The Artificial Jungle" and "The Allergist's Wife" by Charles Busch. Ludlam transformed the ridiculous into high art. He emerged in the 1960s to break all stage and social conventions with his signature extravagant mix of camp, pop culture, literary and movie parody, gender-bending and cross-dressing.

After Ludlam's death in 1987 the banner of ridiculous theater was taken up by Busch, who wrote and starred in his own theater pieces, broke into Broadway and is now a rising movie star.

Iowa Summer Rep 2006 is supported by the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

Again this season, Iowa Summer Rep evening performances will be accompanied by the popular "Dinner on the Patio" fare, with casual seating overlooking the Iowa River. Dinner reservations, which are strongly encouraged, can be made by calling 319-335-3105.

Tickets for "The Mystery of Irma Vep" are $23 ($18 for senior citizens, and $10 for UI students and youth). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Tickets may also be purchased at a substantial discount as part of a Summer Rep subscription package. Series packages for Summer Camp are $55, $43 for senior citizens, and $25 for UI students and youth. Subscription packages will be available until "The Mystery of Irma Vep" closes on July 9. A "Summer Camp" brochure is available from the Hancher box office, or from the Department of Theatre Arts: 319-335-2700 or

Tickets may be purchased 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at For phone or ticket-window purchases, the box office is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,

PHOTOS are available at