There are many words to describe a Ken Ansloan production. Bright, bawdy and boisterous all come to mind when contemplating Ansloan’s shows for his Albuquerque theater troupe The Dolls. In 1997 Ansloan dreamed up the frothy theater fantasy that has since become a staple on Albuquerque stages. As the “Southwest’s most beautiful, talented and humble drag theater troupe,” The Dolls—with Ansloan at the helm as Tequila Mockingbird—know a few things about entertaining audiences.
Ansloan brings his saucy sensibility to the Vortex (2900 Carlisle NE) with The Mystery of Irma Vep, his first time directing a play outside The Dolls’ world. “It ended up being more challenging than I thought it would be,” says Ansloan of the experience. “There’s a feeling of responsibility to the author, of not failing.” In this case the author is Charles Ludlam, a gay playwright who lived and wrote in New York City during the '60s, '70s and '80s. That Ludlam and Ansloan would unite years later on an Albuquerque stage “was kismet,” says Ansloan. “Out of high school, I moved to New York and immersed myself in theater.” An influential moment was seeing Ludlam’s gender-bending comedy.
The Mystery of Irma Vep is a farcical romp through landscapes that will be familiar to enthusiasts of gothic literature and film. Drawing from Edgar Allan Poe, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights and more, the play whizzes through a series of effervescent scenes. The story that unfolds revolves around recent widower Lord Edgar, his servants and the estate they inhabit.
Onto this windy English manor steps Edgar’s new wife, Lady Enid, who seeks the truth about the former lady of Mandacrest Estate. She also searches for nuptial satisfaction, and the audience is treated to humor of the adolescent male variety—which is to say, funny in its flagrance. The lewd comedy follows the characters to Egypt and back again to the moors for more revelations and chuckles.
More dizzying than the plot is the detail that only two actors play eight roles, helped along by 35 costume changes. Both Bryan Lambe and Garrick Milo dedicate themselves wholly to inhabiting woman, man and beast. Lambe as Lady Enid (and Nicodemus, the groundskeeper) brings a physical energy that enlivens (and sometimes frightens) the room. Whenever a dramatic spotlight befalls him (and this happens quite a bit during the two-hour play), Lambe mugs for the audience, screwing his face into ridiculous expressions. That he makes the crowd laugh multiple times using only his body is a testament to his great timing and nerve.
More dizzying than the plot is the detail that only two actors play eight roles, helped along by 35 costume changes. Both Bryan Lambe and Garrick Milo dedicate themselves wholly to inhabiting woman, man and beast.
Garrick Milo proves equally game in his role as Nancy, the housekeeper, and Edgar, the lord of Mandacrest. His Nancy is both blasé and baleful, casting suspicions everywhere but her direction. As Edgar, Milo projects a nervous prudishness while also throwing himself across the stage in all directions.
The actors and Ansloan, along with the production crew, do best when highlighting the double entendre inherent in the rapid costume and character changes. In a moment of vulnerability, Lady Enid reflects, “Nicodemus ... I feel ... we are one and the same.” All of us know they are in fact the same, but the winking mirth with which the gender-bending is presented provides for a dreadfully funny time.