BWW Reviews: THE MANOR Continues to Thrill in Its Twelfth Consecutive Year
The Manor/written by Kathrine Bates/directed by Flora Plumb/Theatre 40 at Greystone/select performances through August 16/(consult www.theatre40.org)
In its twelve consecutive year Theatre 40's The Manor continues to keep the legendary Doheny family of Los Angeles in the limelight. Oil tycoon Edward Doheny was accused of bribery in the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal of the early 20s, and as a result Interior Secretary Albert Fall, who took $100,000 in cash from Doheny was sent to prison. In the 30s Doheny's son was the victim of a murder/suicide within the Doheny manse due to intensified complications of a love triangle that perpetuated with his wife and best friend. Any implication that the two friends were gay and that the wife shot them has no mention in this play. Playwright Kathrine Bates has renamed the family the MacAlisters and placed the action within the walls of Greystone in Beverly Hills, creating a haunting environmental piece somewhat like the tremendously popular Tamara of the 80s*, where audience get a chance to walk around the manor and witness the shocking events of early Hollywood history played out right before their very eyes.
After the very first scene, the audience is divided into three groups depending in which rows they are sitting in the living room - marked with red, green or yellow bows. Each group is requested to follow one of the two maids or butler through a succession of three scenes before returning once more to the living room for the final scene of Act I. Everyone sees the exact same scenes of the play but in a different sequence. The second act, ten years later, follows the identical pattern with a major final scene playing out on the grand staircase before returning for the finale in the living room. The City of Beverly Hills Recreation and Parks Department keeps the estate in well-preserved condition, but there is dust everywhere on the wooden staircases lending the ambiance an aged and... haunted flavor. I was looking for the cobwebs. You can almost feel the spirits floating around the place before the play begins.
The play begins with a wedding reception, that of son Sean MacAlister (John-Paul Lavoisier) to Abby Parsons (Shelby Kocee), daughter of Frank Parsons, Esq (Martin Thompson), trusted lawyer and family friend to the MacAlisters. Tycoon Charles MacAlister (Darby Hinton) and Mrs. Marion MacAlister (Kathrine Bates) preside over the festivities, offering their son and his new bride the manor as a wedding present. We soon learn that Abby's former love interest Gregory Pugh (Jaymes Wheeler), gardener to the MacAlisters, is present at the wedding reception with his new bride Henrietta Havesham (Sarah Van Der Pol), a reckless Broadway tart with a notorious past. Visiting from Colorado are Senator Alfred Winston (Daniel Leslie) and his wife Cora (Melanie MacQueen). Winston has an unusual and tempting deal to offer the senior MacAlister, one that will change their lives and those of their respective families forever. Present throughout are James, the Butler (Daniel Lench), Ursula, the Russian Housekeeper (Nina Borisoff) and Ellie, a mute maid (Esther Levy Richman). What gives The Manor universal appeal is realizing that the filthy rich may indeed have more freedoms and luxuries, but there are no exemptions when it comes down to the harsh blows that fate deals.
Under Flora Plumb's evenly-paced direction, the cast are all top notch. Van Der Pol and Wheeler are riveting as Henrietta and Gregory, two people who are misfits in the affluent world of the MacAlisters. She, conniving and he, intensely unhappy because of his deep attraction to Abby, stir things up and make for a consistent source of intrigue. Kocee is a joy to watch as Abby. She brings a precious joy to the young eager bride and then great fear, uncertainty and sorrow to the Abby of later years. Bates and MacQueen have a wonderfully touching scene in Act II as the wives of the victims commiserate and Hinton and Leslie are equally compelling in their Act II faceoff. Lench, Borisoff and Richman truly excel as the loyal servants. It is important to note that three of the roles are double-cast: Charles MacAlister, Abby and Gregory.
Greystone is the true star here with all of its faded yet still rich and elegant beauty and also Bates' smooth-flowing and intelligently detailed.to.a.fault script that make the play an event that you do not want to miss. You will be enriched by the brief, first-hand connection to LA's history and moved in a way that only you can describe when you experience it up close.
*(In Tamara each audience member could choose to follow a character of their own liking throughout the two hours. Everyone did not see the same scenes, but could follow the events in plot through the eyes of that specific character. This allowed for audience to return to see the play again and again following different characters.)