Elliott Receives Critical Acclaim for Directorial Role

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photo credit: Jerry Lamonica

Two actors. Eight characters of both sexes. More than 30 costume changes in a two-hour production. The late Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep is a study in quick transformations and quick-witted humor. The outrageous, campy production can challenge even the most dexterous of directors.

Suffice it to say that Ken Elliott has passed the test. The associate professor of theater and chair of the Department of Fine Arts at Rutgers–Camden has received critical acclaim for his direction of the play, which recently completed a run at The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island.

“There’s a new production in town at Bay Street Theatre that is delightfully timed to perfection both on the stage and behind the scenes,” writes Amy Patton for The Sag Harbor Express. “I’m talking about the ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep,’ a comedic three-act farce written by the late playwright and actor Charles Ludlam and helmed by director Ken Elliott.”

Elliott was thrilled with the feedback, readily admitting that he reads reviews. “I have friends who never read reviews, but I like to know what is being said about my work, regardless of whether I agree with the opinions expressed,” says Elliott, a resident of Philadelphia. “Of course, it is exhilarating when the response is positive!”

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photo credit: Jerry Lamonica

As Elliott recalls, he was in his office at Rutgers–Camden one afternoon last March when he received a call from the play’s associate producer, John Sullivan, who offered him the job. Elliott had previously worked with Sullivan, a former stage manager, on several off Broadway shows.  For Elliott, his response was a no-brainer. “I said ‘yes’ immediately,” he exclaims. “I had seen the original production with Charles Ludlam and Everett Quinton, and was a big fan of the show.”

According to Elliott, directing the play presents many technical challenges, as the style is very tricky to get right. “It is theatrically heightened, which makes it very seductive for actors to ham it up and gild the lily,” he says. “But for the play to really work, the actors have to believe every moment.”

In his role, Elliott says that he simply focused on telling the story. “I wanted the audience to appreciate the madness and cheap theatrics, but I also wanted to draw them into the convoluted plot and even scare them from time to time,” he says.

Elliott acknowledges that the production was an enjoyable experience due to the seasoned team of actors and designers. He notes that he had worked with actors David Greenspan and Tom Aulino before, so the atmosphere in the rehearsal room was relaxed but focused. “Both of them had done the show before, so that was a huge help,” Elliott says, adding that the backstage dressers and costume designer Mark Mariani were an integral part of the show.

The synergy worked, affirms Aileen Jacobson in a review for The New York Times: “Even more admirably, under Kenneth Elliott’s deft direction, they (Greenspan and Aulino) make audience members care about the strange characters and odd turns of plot. Though it does not have to be more than an amusing evening of quick-paced theater, this ‘Irma Vep’ is also a gripping melodramatic whodunit. Or whatdunit. Or what exactly was done.”

Ken Elliott (front row, center), surrounded by cast and crew.

Ken Elliott (front row, center), surrounded by cast and crew. photo credit: Jerry Lamonica

Iris Weiner echoed the sentiment, noting Elliott’s masterful performance behind the scenes, in a review for TheaterMania: “Director Kenneth Elliott brings out such specific traits in each character, sometimes allowing the audience to forget that they are watching the same two people. Elliott’s impeccable staging, which is rounded out by Barry McNabb’s sharp choreography, includes integral prop placement, staging, and precise timing. Because of Bay Street Theatre’s structure, Elliott is tasked with manipulating the single set so that what was once a Victorian home would in the second act become an Egyptian pyramid …only in the third act to be changed back to the former.”

Elliott will return to the director’s chair at Rutgers–Camden next spring, as he plans to collaborate with Distinguished Professor of Music Julianne Baird on a production of Henry Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen, inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the Walter K. Gordon Theater.

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