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The Mystery of Irma Vep: Damsels in Distress Never Looked Like This!

November 21, 2006

Jamie Torcellini and Madi Distefano

The Walnut Street Theatre 2006-2007 Independence Studio on 3 opens with The Mystery of Irma Vep, a clever, "penny dreadful" comedy lampooning melodrama, Gothic romance and classic horror. This cross dressing, quick change marathon presents seven classic characters brought to life by Walnut Street Theatre veterans Jamie Torcellini and Madi Distefano. The Mystery of Irma Vep will begin on November 28, open on November 30 and close on January 21. Tickets are $28 and are now available at 215-574-3550 or 215-336-1234. Tickets are also available at or Ticketmaster.

The Mystery of Irma Vep takes us to Mandacrest mansion, the strange estate of Lord Edgar Hillcrest. Things are a little unsettling for Lady Enid Hillcrest, to say the least. She finds her new home haunted by the brooding presence of Lord Edgar's first wife, Irma. Glowering servants plague Lady Enid with the spooky (and sometimes bloody) history of the mansion. Ghosts, werewolves and vampires are found around every corner at Mandacrest, as the plot hurtles from the mansion to the mummy's tomb and back again. Hitchcock's Rebecca, The Mummy's Curse, and the Bronte sisters will never be the same! The side-splitting antics of The Mystery of Irma Vep promise to deliver an evening of horror and hilarity.

The Mystery of Irma Vep, the 25th play by writer/director/actor Charles Ludlam, became an enduring international hit. Following Ludlam's own star turn in the play, it went on to be one of the most frequently produced plays in America, named by Time Magazine as one of the Best Plays of the Year. The New York Times praised the show, calling it "far and away the funniest two hours anywhere!"

Charles Ludlam's playwrighting career spanned the founding of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City to teaching and directing at New York University, Yale, and Carnegie Mellon. He was the recipient of the Rosamund Gilder Award for distinguished achievement in the theater in 1986, in addition to four Obie Awards (the last awarded two weeks before his death in 1987). He is well remembered for his take on female roles as well as for his contributions to the American Stage. New Yorker theatre critic Brendan Gill summed it up best. After seeing one of Ludlam's plays, Gill famously remarked: "This isn't farce. This isn't absurd. This is absolutely ridiculous!"

The Walnut Street Theatre production The Mystery of Irma Vep will be quite different from other versions you may have seen. Whereas the myriad of characters are usually played by two men, our production showcases a man and a woman, taking the cross dressing and gender bending to a whole new comedic level. Walnut veterans Jamie Torcellini and Madi Distefano headline the production, with Torcellini taking a turn as both co-star and director. Torcellini was recently seen on the Walnut's Mainstage as the amorous candelabra Lumiere in last holiday season's hit, Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Jamie's other Walnut credits have merited two Barrymore nominations, for Damn Yankees and La Cage Aux Folles. Madi Distefano returns to the Walnut, having recently appeared in Biloxi Blues and last season's Lost in Yonkers. Madi is a five-time Barrymore nominee and a Best Actress winner in 2005.

A seasoned design team rounds out the production. Chris Hanes, who designed the sets of last season's Lobby Hero returns to design the set of The Mystery of Irma Vep. Lighting Designer Shon Causer comes to the Walnut after recently graduating from Temple University. Shon has designed extensively for Temple University, Flashpoint Theatre and the Black Theatre Collective. Costume Designer Mary Folino has her capable hands full with this quick-change riot, but is up to the challenge having designed such previous Studio 3 productions as Mrs. Kemble's Tempest, The Fantasticks, and Pump Boys and Dinettes. Walnut newcomer J. Dominic Chacon lends his talents as Sound Designer. Dominic's design work has been seen all over Philadelphia, and he has recently returned from designing in Washington, D.C. for the first annual Capital Fringe Festival.

The Mystery of Irma Vep is sponsored by The Independence Foundation, Macy's East and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. Media Sponsors for the 2006-2007 Independence Studio on 3 season are Metro and WRTI Radio. Our next Independence Studio on 3 production is Bookends, part of the first Philadelphia New Play Festival, running February 6 "