Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Mystery of Irma Vep
Diversionary Theatre
Review by David Dixon

Also see Bill's review of 2 Pianos 4 Hands

Luke Harvey Jacobs and Bryan Banville
Photo by Peggy Ryan
Performers Bryan Banville and Luke Harvey Jacobs are no strangers to working together. They shared the stage in productions such as San Diego Musical Theatre's version of The Producers and Cygnet Theatre's presentation of On the Twentieth Century. Audiences feel the familiar chemistry between the two stars in Diversionary Theatre's hilarious legacy revival of The Mystery of Irma Vep.

Paying homage to everything from Alfred Hitchcock's film Rebecca to supernatural horror stories, the comedy is a twisty one full of reveals that are strange and sometimes silly. Starting off at a home on the moors, Mandacrest, the second wife of an Egyptologist, Lord Edgar Hillcrest (Banville), Lady Enid (Jacobs), is eager to spend time with her new spouse. While Enid loves Edgar, he has not gotten over the death of his first wife, Irma Vep. Soon, sinister happenings begin to impact their marriage.

Charles Ludlam's script pays tribute to gothic romances and Victorian melodramas, blending his influences so organically that the tale can appeal equally to fans of the genres and to those who are not well versed in these types of tales. His intent was to create a humorous evening during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and his "mystery" provides the same kind of comical escape from reality in today's world. Outside of a few minutes when events slow down for a bit too long before the big climax, his prose keeps audiences laughing and invested in the lives of characters Enid, Edgar, the maid Jane Twisden (Banville), and the handyman Nicodemus Underwood (Jacobs). Directing, Artistic Director Matt M. Morrow and Allison Spratt Pearce present scenes with just the right amount of humor and suspense. They direct plenty of visual gags, and also create a sense of danger once Enid's life is suddenly threatened.

Helping Morrow and Pearce depict Mandacrest is the crew. Matthew Herman's set, Annelise Salazar's lighting, and Alyssa Kane's props add to an eerie atmosphere right out of a classic scary movie or book. Just as key to each sequence is sound designer Evan Eason, who uses prerecorded audio from Banville and Jacobs to help move the plot along when they are not onstage. Additionally, he features music ranging from Bernard Hermann's Psycho score and rock songs such as The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" and Cream's "White Room." Each of the artists create a perfect space for Banville and Jacobs to flex their comedic muscles. Wearing a variety of costumes by Brooke Nicole Kesler and wigs by Peter Herman, the double act take turns in being the straight man and the comic, depending on the situation. Because of this, they are both able to stand out throughout the entire runtime of the interpretation.

Strong work from the leads and production team result in a hysterical rendition of The Mystery of Irma Vep. Kudos to everyone involved with Diversionary's final show of 2022.

The Mystery of Irma Vep runs through December 24, 2022, at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd # 101, San Diego CA. Tickets start at $20.00. For tickets and information, please visit or call 619-220-0097.