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Actors showcase skills in 'The Mystery of Irma Vepp'

Doug Schultz, left, delivers a set-down to Christopher Damlo in a scene from "The Mystery of Irma Vepp," which will be presented Thursday and Friday, Oct. 25-26 at Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre. Photo by - Brian Basham1 / 2
Playing multiple roles, Schultz and Damlo get ample opportunity to display their acting prowess, as they face off as adversaries in one scene, then play a married couple in the next. Photo by - Brian Basham2 / 2

Part "Rebecca," part "Wuthering Heights," part "Hamlet" -- with a little bit of "Dracula" and "The Mummy" thrown in for good measure --  Summit Productions' upcoming staging of "The Mystery of Irma Vepp" might be said to be a show with multiple personalities.

In keeping with that theme, the two actors who star in the production are also playing multiple roles: Doug Schultz is portraying three different characters, while his costar Christopher Damlo is portraying no less than five parts.

"I really like challenging myself to pull off all these different characters -- it's hard, but it's worth it," Damlo said during a rehearsal break last week.

"It's probably the most challenging production I've worked on, from an actor's standpoint," said Schultz, a veteran of numerous past shows with both the now-defunct Playhouse 412 and its successor, Summit Productions.

Damlo, a recent graduate of Concordia College's theater program, is also a familiar face on the local theater scene, having been involved in some recent Shakespeare in the Park productions as well as a couple of Detroit Lakes High School fall musicals during his years there.

Nikki Caulfield, the director of all five past Shakespeare in the Park productions, has also taken the reins for this show -- one with which she is particularly familiar.

"This is my third production of 'The Mystery of Irma Vepp,'" Caulfield said. "I've been obsessed with this play for 15 years -- it's been a long running love affair."

The reason, she says, is that "I keep finding new things in it to appreciate ... it never gets old."

The play is partly an homage to classic English literature, and partly a spoof of it, Caulfield added -- there are "entire chunks" of script that have been shamelessly lifted from the Bronte sisters' "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre," Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," the works of Henrik Ibsen, and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," she noted.

Despite the frequent literary references in this show, however, don't expect highbrow humor, Caulfield cautioned: The jokes are filled with bad puns, the costumes are comically ridiculous, and the two men don't necessarily make the most attractive of women.

"Don't come to this play expecting high-brow anything," she added.

Schultz said that because of the nature of the show, it's being recommended for audiences high school age and above -- not because it might be offensive, but because younger children "probably won't get it," he added.

So how did Schultz and Damlo become involved?

"We were auditioned, recruited, drafted, whatever you might call it..." Schultz started.

"Shanghaied, if you will," Damlo interjected.

But it's clear that no matter how they got cast, neither has any complaints.

"I really like shows like this, with such outrageous humor," Damlo said. "You can just go out there and go for it."

"This is like a train wreck between classical literature and Mel Brooks," Schultz added. "It's an opportunity to go out there and be as silly, funny, crazy as possible."

Adding to the humor is the fact that sometimes two or three different characters played by the same actor are on stage during the same scene, requiring lightning-fast costume and voice changes.

"Just in Act 3, I had 18 or 20 character changes," Schultz said.

"And every character change comes with a costume change," added Caulfield, noting that she had to design the costumes to accommodate multiple quick changes.

"Everything is made to come off with the pull of one zipper," she said," and these zippers are strong -- industrial strength."

The play's subject matter -- which follows many of the elements of a classic Victorian penny dreadful novel -- is extremely well suited to the season, which is also one of the reasons why the production has been scheduled for the last weekend in October... just days before Halloween.

"There's vampires, werewolves, ghouls, a mummy -- and a little bit of insanity thrown in too," Caulfield said. "It wouldn't be a proper Victorian melodrama without a little madness, would it?"

Two performances of "The Mystery of Irma Vepp" will be presented, on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 25-26 at 7:30 p.m. inside the Historic Holmes Theatre.

The show runs approximately 90 minutes. Halloween costumes are encouraged at the Friday performance; anyone who comes in costume will be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift certificate.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and can be purchased by calling 218-844-SHOW (7469), online at or by visiting the Holmes Box Office at 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454