Intiman Theatre prepares for first production since the start of the pandemic

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Photo courtesy of Intiman
Photo courtesy of Intiman

Intiman Theatre will soon host its first in-person production, The Mystery of Irma Vep, A Penny Dreadful, at its new location at Seattle Central College.

Intiman has not held any productions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will reopen with Queer theatre icon Charles Ludlam's most popular play.

The plot focuses on an English estate which may (or may not) be haunted by a mistress who allegedly passed away. Mummies, werewolves, and mistaken identities will feature throughout the production. It will also incorporate dozens of wigs and 35 costume changes to create a robust group of characters, who will be played by Helen Roundhill and Jesse Calixto.

"At my heart I love comedy, and I love broad comedy, and I love slapstick, and I love camp, and this show has it all," said director Jasmine Joshua. "God, it has double entendres, it has quick changes, it has very basic penis jokes, it has gender play in it, which of course, I love."

For casting last fall, open auditions were held. Joshua had worked with Calixto in the past and said that he blew them away during the audition. In addition, "Helen [Roundhill] and I have been circling each other for a while, and... they have a multitude of drag and burlesque characters that they post videos about, and they're a master chameleon of changes of different styles," said Joshua. "Helen just seemed a perfect fit."

Prior to rehearsing on stage, the actors spent a good amount of time reading the script and trying different things. Joshua's goal was to create an environment where everyone felt safe to go too far.

"You have to feel that safety, that we as a room understand that experimentation is okay, and trust me and the stage management team," said Joshua.

Joshua brought up how this was the first time where they, one of the actors, and the stage management team is Nonbinary.

"It's kind of nice. There's really no explaining of anything," said Joshua. "Especially for playing with gender and making fun of what society says a man is or what a woman is. It's kind of the safest place to do that."

Photo courtesy of Intiman  

Keeping it funny
Since the script was originally written in 1984, it contains jokes in Act II that "punch down" rather than "punch up."

"It's not a modern script, so with the lens of 2022 on it... there [are] a lot of jokes in there that [do] not pass muster with modern audiences," said Jasmine Joshua, for whom this their first time directing a production for Intiman Theatre.

The production team questioned how they could continue to perform the show and highlight Ludlam's work while not perpetuating harm.

"So, we spoke with the Charles Ludlam estate as well as the licensing house and said, 'Hey, how can we update this?'" said Joshua.

The production team was granted permission to remove certain lines, but they could not add in any.

"We didn't want to sanitize any of his work, because that is antithetical to what he was trying to do, but we also wanted to be mindful, because words and phrases that were used back then are not acceptable now, and certainly aren't funny anymore," said Joshua.

The crew will be in rehearsal for the next few weeks. The actors have been pumped up to perform on stage.

"I'm excited — assuming that everything goes well with all the COVID bullshit — for these two actors to have an audience, because there really is no feeling as an actor better than making an audience laugh," said Joshua.

"It is fucking funny," Joshua added, "and if you just want to come and laugh, my god, you could not ask for a better evening... The medicine of laughter, here it is. Here's your prescription."

More information
The Mystery of Irma Vep, A Penny Dreadful will preview at the Erickson Theatre, located at 1524 Harvard Ave., on Feb. 8 and 9. Opening nights will take place on Feb. 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. The show runs through Feb. 26.

Ticket prices range from $5 to $65 per person, and Intiman will hold space for 20 free tickets on the day of the show, on a first-come, first-served basis. These tickets will be available at the box office 60 minutes prior to show time. Additionally, there will be an ASL interpreter.

Those wishing to attend are required to follow King County's COVID-19 safety protocols. Audience members who are above the age of 12 will have to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or show a negative PCR test result within the previous 72 hours. Furthermore, all guests must wear a mask during the entire performance, unless they are actively eating or drinking in the lobby.

To learn more and secure tickets for The Mystery of Irma Vep, A Penny Dreadful, visit