BWW Review: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE at the Belmont
A sad tale may be best for winter, but a scary one is quite definitely best for fall. Shirley Jackson, the storyteller of Vermont, may have set her stories in various seasons, but their ominous notes and suggestions of shivers always make them feel as if they're the perfect things for autumn. Her classic chiller, "The Haunting of Hill House," came out in 1959, and F. Andrew Leslie's stage version of the book not long thereafter. A deserted house in the middle of nowhere, where no one can hear you scream, a group of woefully underprepared visitors, and a dash of possible mental instability are the recipe for disaster, cooked by Jackson and copied by others.
Paul R. Lajkowicz directs The Belmont's production of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE in its natural habitat, the Bon-Ton Studio Theatre, Its small space suits the claustrophobia of the story - never has a huge house felt smaller. And it's populated with the most unfortunate of guests. They're led by Professor Montague (Dan Gilbert, in all his glory here), whose scientific method for spotting spooks may be totally useless here. He's invited sexy, funny psychic Theodora (Ahmae Messersmith) and introverted, painfully shy Eleanor (Kayla Nicholas), who grew up with violent poltergeists. They're joined by the current manse owner's nephew (Justin Nicholas) and the real terror of the house, the housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley. Played by Sheryl Rade, words fail to describe Mrs. Dudley, who is horrifying to a point of hilarity.
As things become worse, the researchers are joined by the non-scientific Spiritualist crowd, in the form of the professor's horrendously domineering Spiritualist leader wife (Jessica Oakhem) and her pet assistant, a school headmaster who is more bark than bite (Dan Griffin). Why is the professor refusing to tell his wife what's happened in the house, and why is she receiving messages for a woman named Nell?
Whether the problems are psychic or psychological, they escalate rapidly, and the characters as well as the audience begin to recognize that no good can come of the project. What does happen, however, is unexpected.
Kudos to Kayla Nicholas for carrying a difficult role, and to Joel Persing for turning the director's vision into a perfect haunted house set.
To cheer you after such creepiness, next at The Belmont is MATILDA: THE MUSICAL, with a very different kind of fright to it.