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Fast-change comedy coming to Minnesota West stage

"The Mystery of Irma Vep" opens on April 22 at 7:30 pm, with performances on April 23 at 7:30, and a matinee on April 24 at 2 p.m.

Minnesota West Community & Technical College presents "The Mystery of Irma Vep" A Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlum, Directed by Eric Parrish,  starring Kalen Brands (on left) and Michael Schnieder.
Minnesota West Community & Technical College presents "The Mystery of Irma Vep" A Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlum, Directed by Eric Parrish, starring Kalen Brands (on left) and Michael Schnieder.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — A mystery is coming to the stage at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington. “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” by Charles Ludham is a three-act penny dreadful, and will run from April 22 to April 24. The fast-change comedy is filled with satire, bawdy humor and lots of costume changes.

The show features two actors, playing four characters each, and follows the story of the recently married Lady Enid, who moves to her new husband’s — Lord Edgar — ancestral home after his first wife, the titular Irma Vep, was killed in a werewolf attack. The house is also populated by two servants, the one-legged handyman Nicodemus Underwood and Jane Twisden, the maid who serves her own interests. The audience also meets an Egyptian guide and an ancient mummy throughout the double entendre-filled show.

“It is satire of several theatrical and film genres, including Victorian melodrama, farce, and the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca,” explains director Eric Parrish. “It’s a good combination of farce, slapstick and melodrama—and overall crazy and random.”

Parrish first saw the show in 2013, after a friend of his directed it, and found it “irresistibly, over-the-top funny.” He was looking for something with a small cast, due to the unpredictable nature of theater during the pandemic, and thought Irma Vep would be a fun challenge to take on.

“I have never done anything like this before,” Parrish said. “It’s been a new learning experience for me. I have never directed a show with such a small cast before. There are different challenges to the process. I’m grateful that the actors are so willing to try things, and having experience working with one another has allowed us all to take this risk.”

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Minnesota West Community & Technical College presents "The Mystery of Irma Vep" A Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlum, Directed by Eric Parrish, starring Kalen Brands (on left) and Michael Schnieder.
Minnesota West Community & Technical College presents "The Mystery of Irma Vep" A Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlum, Directed by Eric Parrish, starring Kalen Brands (on left) and Michael Schnieder.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

The cast of two got their scripts before spring break, Parrish said, and they’ve been rehearsing four days a week since March 14, but Kalen Brands and Michael Schnieder have also been meeting on their own time to get lines down. Parrish worked with the two actors when they were students at Worthington High School, noting that this show is a departure for both in terms of anything they’ve worked on with him before.

“It's a big challenge trying to play so many characters because they each have their distinct voice and personality,” said Schnieder, 20, a second-year liberal arts major. “I'm looking forward to seeing the crowd's reaction to the show. I can't wait for them to see how absurd it can get.”

“It will be really rewarding to put the whole show together,” Brands agrees. A second-year law enforcement major, Brands last worked with Parrish in the WHS production of “Once Upon a Mattress” where he played the mute king — a big difference from this show where he and Schneider talk for almost the entirety of the 100-minute show.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep” came with lots of obstacles, from line memorization for the actors, to the 34 costume changes needed to pull off the show.

“Costuming is a huge challenge because they are switching characters so rapidly they don’t have time for zippers or buttons,” noted Parrish. “I’m grateful to Roxanne Hayenga Johnson for her talents and know-how — and for making items work for the switches.”

Additionally, the set required a lot of “secrets,” specific details, and odd props, which Parrish says they wouldn’t have been able to manage without Paul Seifert backstage.

Come see it all unfold at the Fine Arts Theater on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community & Technical College. Tickets are $6 for adults and are available one hour before the performance. The show opens at 7:30 p.m. April 22, with performances at 7:30 p.m. April 23, and a 2 p.m. matinee on April 24.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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