Players Pen – August 14, 2014

The all-weather pavilion has been spilling over with hearty laughter since opening night. Full force belly laughs, chuckles, tears and side-splitting fun.  One patron exclaimed, “I nearly exploded!”

Playwright Charles Ludlam grew up across the street from a movie theater and produced backyard plays with the kids in his neighborhood. In 1967 he started his own company, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company and created “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful” that Players audiences are howling with enjoyment alongside the werewolf.

Ludlam mixes literary sources from Shakespeare to Edgar Allan Poe, classic monster movies and the melodrama of a penny dreadful to craft his fast paced, quick change extravaganza. Two male actors play eight characters, including the female parts.

A penny dreadful is a 19th century type of British fiction publication.  It generally featured sensational stories published in installments or serial form over a course of several weeks with each installment costing a penny.

The term soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured an exaggerated, melodramatic story line. The penny dreadful was printed on cheap pulp paper and aimed primarily at working class adolescents.

Serials began around 1830. Writers like Charles Dickens wrote in serial form, his works costing a shilling (12 pennies) for working class adults.  By the 1850s the serial was directed toward teenagers.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful” borrows from this form of Victorian melodrama as well as Universal Monster movies, German expressionist film, Oscar Wilde, mysteries a’ la Doyle, other classic literary sources such as “Rebecca,” “The Raven,” “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Wuthering Heights” and films such as “Gaslight,” “The Wolfman” and “The Mummy’s Curse.”

Ludlam takes audiences to Mandercrest Estate, home of Lord and Lady Hillcrest and their mysterious servants, Nichodemus Underwood and Jane Twisden. While a killer wolf roams the moors, Lady Enid is haunted by the vengeful spirit of Lord Edgar’s first wife, Irma. And the penny dreadful begins …

While Sean Grennan and Sean Fortunato have been swapping wigs and skirts on stage, Fortunato has also been in rehearsals portraying a West Point graduate during the day for the Midwest premiere of Richard Strand’s Civil War drama, “Butler.”

Strand joined rehearsals this week to incorporate edits into his script. The Players production is only the second time it has been fully mounted. Richard is excited the Players version will include all six characters he created as well as his enhancements.

Greg Vinkler portrays the title character, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, and newcomer Sean Parris is cast as Shepard Mallory, a runaway slave. May 23, 1861, three months into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and requested asylum at Fort Monroe, the Union-held citadel.

Maj. Gen. Butler arrived at the fort a day ahead of the slaves. Butler’s actions and choices influenced his commander and chief, President Abraham Lincoln. Richard’s script focuses on conversations that may have happened behind closed doors.

Joining Vinkler, Paris and Fortunato are Players veteran Tim Monsion cast as Major Cary of the Confederate Army and interns Peter Brian Kelly and Andrew Purvis.

The Players will host a pre-show seminar with Civil War re-enactor Joe Knaapen Wednesday Aug. 27 at 6:30 p.m. He will speak on Door County’s own Civil War veteran Edward S. Minor, who was elected to the United States Congress.  Joe has also helped to clarify historical questions for the cast and costume designer.

While “Butler” is in the rehearsal hall the cast, band and director of our fall offering “Always…Patsy Cline” has taken over the dining hall. Karen Janes Woditsch as Patsy’s pen pal Louise, and Christine Mild, as Patsy Cline, are working on numbers for the biographical musical.

Whether you enjoy classic romances, monster movies, historical biographies or down-home, toe-tapping music the Players has a show for you. “The Mystery of Irma Vep” runs through August 17; “Butler” Aug. 20 through Aug. 31 and “Always…Patsy Cline” Sept. 3 through Oct. 19.  We hope to see you by the bay for one or two of these great shows! For more information visit or phone 920-868-3287.

Audra Baakari Boyle is the Peninsula Players Business Manager, celebrating her 20th season in 2014.