Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Peninsula Players actors romp in presto chango play


PHOTO: Sean Fortunato, left, and Sean Grennan play multiple roles in Peninsula Players Theatre’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful.” Peninsula Players Theatre photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Some plays are theater for the fun of it.

With “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful,” it’s two actors playing one set of characters, then changingcostumesasfastaspossible and playing another set of characters, then changingcostumesasfastaspossible to play the first characters, and then carrying on with the costume/character changes in various combinations.


Cast: Jane Twisden – Sean Grennan; Nicodemus Underwood – Sean Fortunato; Lady Enid Hillcrest – Sean Fortunato; Lord Edgar Hillcrest – Sean Grennan; An Intruder – Sean Grennan; Alcazar – Sean Fortunato; Irma Vep - ???

Creative: Playwright – Charles Ludlam; director – Greg Vinkler; scenic designer – Keith Pitts; costume designer – Rachel Lambert; lighting designer – Charles Cooper; sound designer – Christopher Kriz; production stage manager – William Collins; properties designer – Sarah E. Ross; production coordinator – Sarah Burnham, scenic artist – April Beiswenger; managing director – Brian Kelsey.


The story teases potboilers of the past from England, the so-called serial penny dreadfuls. There’s a mystery, as the title says, but not the edge-of-your-seat kind. This mystery is goofy as all get out so the over-the-top characters have something to hang their actions/reactions on – and help propel the changingcostumesasfastaspossible (with the assist of four dressers backstage).

There’s spoof humor in all this – and plays on words and some double-entendre meanings and movement and teases of the audience and the wink-winks of two male actors flipping into female roles and a general light approach to the mystery/suspense/chiller/horror/dark-and-stormy-night genre.

Add all that up, and it’s theater for the fun of it. Peninsula Players Theatre had such fun with “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful” in the fall season 1993 that it heard about it ever since as an audience favorite. Artistic director Greg Vinkler acted in that version. Now he directs this version with the versatile Sean Fortunato and Sean Grennan.

In addition to the dazzle of changingcostumesasfastaspossible, the production (4½ stars out of 5) flexes muscle in its detailed period costumes and wigs and its two sets. One set features an old English estate, and the other features an Egyptian tomb. Act II creates a sense of the Indiana Jones kind of exotic flair, with comedy, when it travels to Egypt.

British accents are thick, so the audience has to listen up. Lines are dropped in from all sorts of literature as playwright Charles Ludlam plays with situational quotes from British literature.

Sean Grennan’s main characters are the estate’s maid, who is fussy and loyal to her late mistress, and the adventuresome very British lord of the estate. Sean Fortunato’s main characters are the estate’s rough-hewn caretaker, who has wooden leg, and the new mistress of the manor, a primping actress who savors the other side of day. The two actors also play other characters who fell out of a 1930s horror movie or two.

Sean Fortunato adds a few touches from the dancer in him, and some dark hues. Sean Grennan adds to his colorful summer at the Players, which started with the production of his warmly received play, “The Tin Woman.”

The theater probably could sell tickets to what happens backstage in the few moments when an actor leaves the stage as one character in costume and voice and soon arrives back on stage as another character in costume and voice. How fast is fast? That’s how fast the changes are made. Timing is everything in this production, and this production has everything.

Performances continue to Aug. 17. Info: www.peninsulaplayers.com.

RELATED EVENTS: Aug. 6 – post-show discussion with playwright, cast and creative team. Aug. 8, 6:30 p.m. – pre-show talk by Gary Jones of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and director Greg Vinkler.

REST OF SEASON:Butler” by Richard Strand, Aug. 20-31; “Always… Patsy Cline” by Ted Swindley, Sept. 3-Oct. 19.

THE VENUE (2014): The location is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas. The 621-seat Peninsula Players Theatre features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wood slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 79 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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