On a dusky afternoon in a New York diner, Everett Quinton leaned over a bowl of blood-red Jell-O and explained the precise calculus of the quick change.

"If the audience can count to two and you're back out there, you'll get a laugh," he said in a husky whisper. "If it's three, nothing."Quinton has good reason to be obsessed with timing. As half of a two-man cast in the revival of "The Mystery of Irma Vep," Quinton is responsible for the quicksilver antics of four characters, all of whom nearly meet themselves at some point during the play.

"Irma Vep," which opens next week at the Westside Theater, is a loony takeoff on vampires, "Wuthering Heights" and mummy movies. Written by Charles Ludlam, it was a surprise hit in 1984, with Ludlam and Quinton.

"I've figured out something beautiful about the play: It just doesn't add up," said Quinton, 46, with a laugh.

- By Jesse McKinley