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‘Penny dreadfuls’ turn dreadfully funny in Triad Stage’s The Mystery of Irma Vep

Haas Regen and Allen E. Read. Photo by VanderVeen Photographers.

Haas Regen and Allen E. Read. Photo by VanderVeen Photographers.

In Victorian England, ‘penny dreadfuls’ were cheap stories sold in parts weekly for one penny. Many of their subjects covered the supernatural, and basically they were so dreadful they only cost a penny. In Triad Stage’s production of The Mystery of Irma Vep, a parable of penny dreadfuls, Victorian morals and old Hollywood horror films, the spoofy ghost tale works well in their favor, laying the groundwork for a whirlwind of a comedy.

Last weekend, actors Haas Regen and Allen E. Read were put to work for their Triad Stage debuts, each acting as three eccentric characters. For both professionals, it was their roles as women that were the highlight of the evening.

Dressed in a grand 1800s dress, Read portrayed both a wife’s soft feminine side and playful nature as Lady Enid Hillcrest, the new lady of the house. He also captured the frantic antics of a frightened woman as a vampire chased her. A comedic athlete, Read quickly switched between Lady Enid, commoner Nicodemus Underwood and the Egyptian, Alcazar.

Regen captured the poise expected of a Victorian English woman as Jane Twisden, the housekeeper. And, honestly, sometimes I forgot both were actually men—sometimes. Regen switched between Jane, Lord Edgar Hillcrest and a vampire intruder.

Often times characters had to interact with one another, which is when Read and Regen did their best work. In addition to running on and off stage, changing costumes quickly and yelling at an invisible counterpart off in the distance, there were times that both characters simply and playfully acknowledged the audience when hiccups occurred.

As Lady Enid (Read) distraughtly yelled for Nicodemus’ help, she suddenly realized that no help would be coming—because she (meaning he) was already there. “You can’t meet with Nicodemus,” Jane (Regen) would tell Lady Enid (Read). “No, I mean you can’t meet with Nicodemus.” And Lady Enid would realize—right, she is Nicodemus, and hurry off stage to become her counterpart.

The scenic design by Robin Vest is a must-mention, as well. The set is beautiful and elaborate, split between an old Victorian home and an Egyptian tomb. The backdrop, which follows the sunrise and sunset framed the entire piece and set the tone for each scene. G. Clausen’s sound design, which included an organ reminiscent of old black-and-white horror films, shaped the mood of the play, too.

Director Bryan Conger, who will be leaving in a month to continue his career at Cape Fear Regional Theatre, did an outstanding job and left his five-year-old Triad family with a wonderful send-off. We’ll certainly miss him.

Overall, the production is filled with plays on words, mild dirty humor and high energy that all made for a hilarious and light-hearted evening. And since the spooky tale revolves around the mystery of a dead woman, a mummy, and a werewolf, it’s the perfect way to kick off the month of Halloween.

Wanna go? The Mystery of Irma Vep runs this week through Sunday at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $10-$60. For tickets or more information visit triadstage.org or call 336-272-0160.