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In The Mystery of Irma Vep, now playing at Actor's Express, the late playwright Charles Ludlam set out to spoof as many gothic clichés using as few actors as humanly possible. Thus two men play multiple roles -- at times making costume changes that seem virtually instantaneous -- in a plot that riffs on pulp novels, Rebecca, Gaslight and innumerable vampire, werewolf and mummy movies from Universal and Hammer studios.

David Crowe plays both Lord Edgar of Hillcrest manor and the sinister housekeeper Jane. Yet despite giving Edgar a milquetoast manner and Jane a nasal voice worthy of Mel Blanc, Crowe is the more reserved of the two-man cast. He gives plenty of space to Hugh Adams, who flounces hilariously as Edgar's dim new wife Enid, limps lasciviously as a one-legged Scottish servant and lisps flamboyantly as an Egyptian guide (who pronounces "sarcophagus" as "sarco-fag-us").

Directed by Randee Trabitz, Irma Vep has a surprisingly stately pace at first, seeming like regular-strength coffee compared to Dad's Garage's double-shot-of-espresso production in 1997. But it gradually accelerates until hitting its peak in Act Two's Egypt scene, during which finger cymbals and snake charmer music accompany a gloriously idiotic dance number. Despite its gothic setting, the show still finds cause to reference "Dueling Banjos" and the Bunny Hop, although it may nod to its own gimmick one time too many.

Subtitled "A Penny Dreadful," The Mystery of Irma Vep makes consistently clever use of the play's spooky but comic stage effects, including a splendidly distasteful dead wolf. Actor's Express' last production, Fefu and Her Friends, brought the audience backstage, but one really would like to see behind the scenes of Irma Vep and witness the breakneck hustle of Crowe and Adams' costume changes.

The Mystery of Irma Vep plays through June 30 at Actor's Express, King Plow Arts Center, 887 W. Marietta St., with performances at 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and 7 p.m. Sun. (and 2 p.m. matinees Jan. 28 and Feb. 11). $20-25. Call 404-607-7469.

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