BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella Theater's RAVENSCROFT is A Genre-Bending, Gothic Mystery
Mildred's Umbrella is closing their 2012-2013 season with the Houston premiere of the moody and atmospheric formula bending genre play RAVENSCROFT by Don Nigro. The 1991 drama serves as the basis for THE MANOR, a 1999 film with Peter O'Toole, and introduces audiences to Inspector Ruffing, a man challenged with trying to decipher the truth through his interviews with five duplicitous women at Ravenscroft Manor. We watch as Ruffing tries to solve the possible murder of Patrick Roarke, who took an unfortunate headfirst dive down the main stairwell in the middle of the night.
Don Nigro's drama, written at the three-way intersection of Monty Python, Agatha Christie, and DOWNTON ABBEY, is a psychological thriller where the notions of truth and the accuracy of truth from different perspectives is constantly being experimented with. The play runs about 2 hours and 15 minutes, with the intermission, and Don Nigro's playing with the truth does cause the action to stagnate, especially in the middle of the first act.
Even with the problematic script, Rob Kimbro directs the show with impeccable skill and clarity. The action of the show and the conversations happen on an elevated potion of the stage, where Inspector Ruffing interviews the women at the manor. However, when they are off stage they are always present on the fringes of the performance space, never leaving the consciousness of Ruffing or the audience. Likewise, they stay in character the whole time as they wait to enter and reenter the action. This technique highlights Ruffing's desire to expediently solve the case, keeping a tangible sense of urgency in the production.
Dialect Consultant Jim Johnson has done a great job coaching the cast to use realistic accents that fit their characters' individual social statuses.
Seán Patrick Judge plays the sleuthing Inspector Ruffing, a man who just wants to adequately do his job. His frustration with the lies presented by the women mirrors those of the audience. He gets angry over the unending combination of red herrings given to him, exploding in a way that is completely cathartic for the audience because we feel the exact same way.
Marcy, a lonely and foreign governess, is masterfully played by Claire Anderson. She imbues her character with rigid Gothic stoicism. Her character is stern and unflinching, causing her motives and desires to be all the more enthralling. Her posture is immaculate, especially as she sits straight-backed near the edge of her seat on the fringe of the stage.
Portraying the zany and socially inappropriate Mrs. Ravenscroft, Michelle Edwards presents a character that is sexualized and attempts to use her feminine whiles to gain favor and advantage. Her inapt sexual advances and misplacEd Manners bring a lot of humor into the performance.
Zoquea Millburn remarkably plays the spacey and often confused daughter, Gillian Ravenscroft. As she gets Inspector Ruffing caught in her web of deceitful mental games she infuriates and entertains the audience.
Kara Ray's Dolly and Karen Schlag's Mrs. French are polar opposites of each other, which allow the actresses to perfectly compliment each other. Dolly is dumb and dawdling, but she seems to have a better handle on what's happening when she is not flying into hysterics. Mrs. French suffers from a superiority complex because of her noticeable intelligence, as she attempts to control and micromanage the goings-on in the manor.
Jodi Bobrovski's Set Design is gorgeous and truly fantastic. I love that the action of the show is played out on a large Gothic mirror that is cracked, as it perfectly captures the damaging and damning themes of the power and sincerity of truth and perceived truths. This sharp attention to detail shows a fantastic knowledge and understanding of the script on a literary level. Moreover, the collected furniture is perfectly appropriate for a Gothic manor's library.
Claremarie Verheyen's Costume Design fabulously captures the roaring twenties, giving a great sense of reckless wealth, especially with Mrs. Ravenscroft. Then the costumes are also wonderfully dark and sumptuous, lending to the archetypal sullenness of Gothic drama. These outfits are multifaceted and perfectly tailored to the show.
Light Design by Chelsea Touchet is simplistic and gloomy. The deep blues wash over the stage and cast and keep them in a gorgeous Gothic obscurity. The lighter blue with the windowpane gobo is fantastic as well because it captures the light of a snowy evening in a way that is believable for the audience.
Sound Design by Tim Thompson is simplistic, but evocative. I loved the used of a ticking clock at the top of the show and the phonograph player's warped and warbled sounds.
Mildred's Umbrella Theater does clever work with RAVENSCROFT, pulling out as compelling of a production as the script allows. I feel like Don Nigro should really condense his work into an interesting and intense 80-85 minute one act. However, the quality of direction and acting in Mildred's Umbrella's production really enlivens the show and ensures that the audience is amused.
RAVENSCROFT runs at Spring Street Studio's Studio 101 at 1824 Spring Street, Houston through May 18, 2013. For more information or tickets, please visit http://www.mildredsumbrella.com or call (832) 463 - 0409.Photos by Lynn Lane. Courtesy of Mildred's Umbrella Theater.
Michelle Edwards (Mrs. Ravenscroft) and Seán Patrick Judge (Ruffing).
Zoquera Millburn (Gillian) and Seán Patrick Judge (Ruffing).
Seán Patrick Judge (Ruffing) and Claire Anderson (Marcy).
Kara Ray (Dolly).
Kara Ray (Dolly), Karen Schlag (Mrs. French), Seán Patrick Judge (Ruffing), and Claire Anderson (Marcy).