BWW Review: RAVENSCROFT Tickles Irving Audiences

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On Sunday, I went to the Dupree Theatre in the Irving Arts Center to see Ravenscroft, a play by Don Nigro. In her Director's Note, Andi Allen muses on what kind of play Ravenscroft really is: "Is it a Gothic murder mystery? Is it a ghost story? Is it a dark comedy? Is it a melodrama? Is it a parody? The answer is 'yes' - to all those questions." Ravenscroft is indeed a bit of a hodge-podge, but it struck me first and foremost as a parlor drama, or drawing room play - characters sit around the living room, essentially, and try to unravel what has happened before the play even began. It is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel, if you were to skip ahead past the murder and instead focus on the detective's process. Inspector Ruffing interviews all five women living at Ravenscroft Manor several times, and in different combinations, searching desperately for the truth about a young manservant's death. Did he accidentally fall down the stairs, or was he pushed? The women, who range from odd to demented, are determined to conceal the truth from him, spinning ghost stories, fabricating details, and pointing fingers.

This was my first visit to the Irving Arts Center. I had no idea that this big beautiful hub for artists even existed! Wendy Searcy-Woode's set looks striking on the expansive stage of the Dupree Theatre, just a small living room centerstage, five ornate wooden chairs spread across the rest of the space, and upstage an impossibly tall, treacherously winding staircase suspended in air, leading to nowhere. At rise, all is backlit by an enormous scrim in an eerie red. Later, falling snow is projected onto the scrim to illustrate the portentous weather outside. I think projections could have played a bigger role in the show though. They might have made good companions to monologues, giving something for the audience's eyes to follow as they listen to the character spin a yarn for them. For example, when Miss Ravenscroft tells the inspector of a beautiful ballgown-clad ghost appearing at the top of the stairs, an opportunity for a spooky projection floating at the top of the stairs has been missed, and instead we must rely only on Miss Ravenscroft's words and our own imaginations to paint the picture. I did like the choice to keep all five women onstage the entire time. They loom as ominously as ghosts in their chairs, all facing the parlor, creating a certain claustrophobic urgency for Inspector Ruffing. Plus, having all women onstage makes for quick no-nonsense transitions, which helps to keep the play moving.

Geoff Leonard-Robinson, who plays Inspector Ruffing, does most of the heavy lifting for the story, since he is the only character who appears in every scene. The inspector starts out very authoritative, but as he gets more and more irate (and drunk), he becomes vulnerable in a really hilarious way. One of my favorite jokes of the show is when a stumbling drunk, confused, red-faced Ruffing proclaims that since he is the only man present, he is the voice of reason. Leonard-Robinson's insecure inspector is a loveable buffoon and very, very funny. Lynsey Hale, who plays the governess, his primary suspect, also stands out. With one wily raise of her eyebrow she grabs your attention. While all of the women seem to be keeping secrets, Hale's secrecy is the most complex and subtle. At one moment I suspect the governess has malicious intent, but the next my suspicions melt away, and I am never convinced I have definitively discovered her nature. Hale's Austrian dialect is well done too. Though she has the thickest accent of any character, I can understand her best, and her speech never seems stilted.

Ravenscroft at Mainstage Irving-Las Colinas is light and fun. The parlor drama genre doesn't allow for much physical action, but the actors do their best given the limitations of a rather mediocre script. Nothing about the play haunted me the day after. Yet, while it didn't stick to my proverbial ribs, it was a fun time. Ravenscroft will delight anyone looking for a simple, fun way to spend an evening or an afternoon.

Ravenscroft runs through February 2nd at the Irving Arts Center. For tickets, call the box office at 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingtheatre.org for more information.

Photo courtesy of Mike Morgan



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From This Author Jo-Jo Steine