Jack Wallen & Michael Drury. Photo: Chicken Coop Theatre Company

By Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

I cannot imagine that there is any theatergoer who doesn’t have a list of shows that they wish they could revisit. And not just classics that always come around again, but a particular production of a specific play. 

Alas, once closed, the experience is gone except in memory, which is, of course, the crucial element of live performance; to experience that cherished collective shared moment together. “You should have been there!” The immediacy, risk, and forgiveness of the relationship between performer and audience is unique and cannot be captured with digital or film technology. 

But in the seemingly endless days of life during a pandemic, digital platforms are nearly all that we have, and so theatre companies are confronted with the choice of being on a year (or more) long hiatus or embracing recorded or filmed productions. The Chicken Coop Theatre Company had only barely been able to make an impact with just one production before lockdown/quarantine/the end of fun, but it was a pip: Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep.

I praised that show in my review but reading it again a year later, I cannot help but wonder if I didn’t entirely get it (Did you really think critics never entertained such thoughts?) and desired to see it again. 

So we may be grateful that Chicken Coop Creative Director Jason Cooper has chosen to film that production, reuniting actors Michael Drury and Jack Wallen and the design crew to revisit their inestimable work in front of cameras just a few weeks ago. The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful will premiere online on October 28.

Is it theatre? Does the intermediary of technology interject too much distance? Will the cameras capture unexpected moments of wig and wardrobe malfunction that often add to the fun? I doubt it. But there is no question that online offerings have the potential to reach an audience broader than the lucky few who find themselves in Louisville over the course of six performances.

I was allowed to preview the final cut, which includes director Cooper in Alistar Cooke mode, and the zany, unapologetically broad attack of last year’s stage production is intact, so I won’t belabor a second review, but the camera work moves with the action, following the antic comedic movement with sweeps and zooms and framing things a little closer than the audience’s POV without overuse of close-ups. A little audience reaction is included in the sound design, that, whatever your feelings about laugh tracks, does invite the illusion that we have visited a theatre and aren’t sitting alone in our living rooms. 

And there is also this thought: as a society, we are eager consumers of endless hours of streaming content, so whyever should some of those hours not be filled by the work of Louisville artists?

The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful 

By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jason Cooper

The Chicken Coop Theatre Company

Available October 28 – 31, 2020

Ticket Price – $10.00
For Tickets visit:

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.