Curtain Rises: Christopher Patrick Mullen is a maid man in PSF ‘Irma Vep’
It isn’t often an actor revisits a favorite role, much less with the same artistic team.
Make that “favorite roles” for Christopher Patrick Mullen in the 2019 Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s “The Mystery Of Irma Vep,” through July 14, Schubert Theatre, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University. Center Valley.
Mullen is back, opposite Brad DePlanche, directed by Jim Helsinger and with costumes by Lisa Zinni, the same artistic team for the 2007 PSF production of playwright Charles Ludlum’s farce.
Mullen and DePlanche each play one of the servants and the lord and lady of Mandacrest, respectively. Mullen exits one minute as Lord Edgar Hillcrest and enters the next minute as the maid, Jane Twidsen. Similarly so for DePlanche.
Though Mullen and DePlanche are the only actors on stage, save for an entertaining set change that involves three “Mummies,” there’s a crew of six backstage to assist them with the quick-change costumes. Each actor is assigned three persons, including one dresser and two assistant stage managers.
“We have Team Brad and Team CPM,” says Mullen, aka CPM as in Christopher Patrick Mullen, adding, “A lot of times, it’s lickety-split and we’re back out there.
“It seems like a panic. In the first week, we were deer in headlights. We actually hit a stride. We’ve found all those spaces backstage where we can drink or hit the towel.”
It gets crowded.
“In some places, where we’re doing a change, there’s two and one-half feet between the wall and the stage set. It’s all choreographed, to make sure that people can pass where they need to pass.
“In this show, as in all shows, it’s learning where to breathe,” says Mullen, a DeSales University graduate who has been in shows at PSF since its inception in 1992. “I’m one of the few who’ve been here in its inaugural year.”
At PSF, Mullen has been in “Shakespeare in Love,” “King Richard II,” “Love’s Labours Lost,” “Julius Caesar,” “Pericles” and 25 additional productions. His other credits include Off-Broadway’s “The Runner Stumbles,” the first National Tour of “West Side Story” and numerous productions at the Arden Theatre Company, Philadelphia.
Of PSF, Mullen says, “I can’t say enough about it. It’s really developed into something where the quality of the work is first-rate.
“We sort of affectionately call it Shakespeare Camp. It’s such a good time.
“There is no place in the Philadelphia area where you’re going to see ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ [at PSF, July 10 - Aug. 4] in such an intimate space. Theater’s cannot afford to do them on that scale,” says Mullen, adding that Labuda’s Main Stage is smaller than many theater venues.
“Over the years and especially under Patrick’s leadership, the festival’s really developed in a good direction,” Mullen says, referring to Patrick Mulcahy, in his 16th season as PSF Producing Director. The 2019 season is PSF’s 28th.
“That’s why this remounting of ‘Irma Vep’ is so special to me,” Mullen says. “Back by popular demand is not something that PSF does. But as spoofs go, ‘Vep’ is so smart.
“I didn’t have the level of appreciation I did that I do now. There’s a lot of Shakespeare in it. Plus a lot of Poe. It’s the genius of Charles Ludlum,” Mullen says, drawing comparisons to “Around the World in 80 Days” and “The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged),” other small-cast, multiple-role comedies PSF has presented in Schubert Theatre.
“But in another sense, it’s [‘Irma Vep’] in a league of its own. It’s just a pleasure to be up there sayng these words. The language is so much fun to do.”
Mullen plays Douglas in PSF’s “Henry IV, Part 1,” July 24-Aug. 4.
Mullen, who has lived in Brooklyn since 1990, will work this fall on a web series of an original work, “ChipandGus,” with fellow PSF actor John Ahlin, who plays Falstaff in PSF’s “Henry IV, Part 1.”
“He and I have known each other for 10 years,” Mullen says of Ahlin. “We’ve done ‘ChipandGus’ at CenterStage, Baltimore, and a good handful of theaters in the Northeast.”
Mullen does lots of shows in Philadelphia.
“The Philly theater scene is a vibrant theater scene, for certain,” says Mullen. “Back in the early ‘80s, there were three or four theaters that hired Equity actors. Now there’s dozens there that are under union contracts. And there’s all kinds of work. It’s a great place for actors to build a resume. I have a few theaters that I consider my home. People’s Light is one of them, And the Arden is another.
“New York still feels like home. It’s a place I always wanted to live as a kid. It sort of grew on me, the pace and the pulse.”
Of his stage partner in PSF’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” Mullen says, “Brad DePlanche is one of my best friends, from when I met him and worked with him in 2001. We got to do shows together, at Orlando Shakespeare Theater and People’s Light.
“To get to do a reunion production like this, with the same team, Brad, Jim, Lisa and Patrick ... ,” Mullen says, pausing, and adds, “As you get older, you realize how rare this opportunity is.
“When we were getting this back together, in the first week of the run, I thought, ‘This is really special again.’
“It’s manic, but it’s also very mannered. When we get to the point where we are right now, I can’t wait to put this in front an audience each night,” Mullen says.
Tickets: Labuda Center for the Performing Arts lobby box office, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley; pashakespeare.org/psf_tickets.php; 610-282-WILL (9455)
“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and others who make them possible. Email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, email@example.com