Review: THE MANOR Returns to Greystone Mansion for its Sixteenth Year
Every January I look forward to attending THE MANOR by Katherine Bates, presented by Theatre 40 inside the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills where the story upon which it is based actually took place. Now celebrating its 16th year, the annual production has become a Los Angeles/Beverly Hills institution with several performances selling out even before tickets go on sale to the public. Its popularity, no doubt, is due to the talented actors, costumed to time-period perfection, who make up the cast of characters about the oil-rich Doheny family, as well as the chance to be inside the grand and glorious architectural landmark in which the events of 89 years ago actually took place, performed in two acts taking place 10 years apart.
After walking through the wondrous park grounds surrounding the mansion, audience members are escorted into the grand hall "living room" marvelously decorated by the show's producer David Hunt Stafford and Jackie Petras. Once seated, the audience is split into 3 smaller groups and led by the household staff (Daniel Lench, Katherine Henryk, and Esther Richman) from room to room in the lovingly restored Greystone Mansion as different scenes of the narrative are portrayed, leading up to a shocking and apparent murder and suicide on the grand staircase.
This year's production is directed with great skill by Martin Thompson who lends his refined demeanor to Frank Parsons, Esq., the long-time lawyer of the fabulously wealthy family patriarch and mining tycoon Charles MacAlister, authentically portrayed by Darby Hinton with just the right amount of good-old-boy charm, swagger and a trusting nature. The names of all characters in the Doheny saga have been changed, of course, "to protect the guilty" as we are told before the play begins by his loyal butler, James (Daniel Lench who has masterfully been playing the part for 5 years).
As MacAlister's son Sean (newcomer to the party Sol Mason who will no doubt be more at ease with the character as the weeks pass after getting a less distracting haircut) and his new wife, Parsons' daughter Abby (lithe and lovely Annalee Scott) celebrate their marriage, Charles makes an illegal if well-intentioned loan to Senator Alfred Winston (a stand-in for Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, portrayed by another annual favorite Daniel Leslie as a good-old Southern boy with a serious gambling problem). Both men face imminent disgrace and worse in the oncoming Teapot Dome bribery scandal, which engulfed the Warren Harding administration, here represented by a deal made for lucrative mining rights in exchange for building Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, along with the matter of a personal loan to pay off gambling debts, paid in cash and now seen as a bribe to make the lucrative deal happen.
The two men's wives are lovingly portrayed by Carol Potter as Marion MacAlister and Melanie MacQueen as Cora Winston. Both display a bit of distain for the other, perhaps out of jealousy but probably more so for the lack of trust each has with her husband. I especially enjoyed their scene together after the troubles faced by the deal made between their husbands causes the two men to be facing jail time. And as the Winstons leave the mansion together with their backs turned, you know they will never be invited back.
Another guest at the wedding is the handyman and Abby's jilted flame Gregory Pugh (handsome Mikel Parraga-Wills, who nails the part in his professional stage debut) and his flapper-entertainer wife Henrietta (Kira Brannlund who flashes her flirty nature and red fringe to great effect as often as possible), a mismatched couple if there ever was one. For you see, Greg wanted to marry Abby but was forbidden to do so by her father who had greater plans for his daughter's financial future. It's a good lesson to never marry someone else on the rebound!
The infamous murder/suicide which took place in the mansion occurs on the grand staircase near the end of the play, with a drunken and drugged-out Greg confronting Sean with the fact he believes Abby really loves him. Or are the two men really in love with each other with Abby just a pawn in the middle? But before anything is worked out, gunfire erupts and the two men lay dead on the floor. How can the MacAlister clan survive such heartbreak and sorrow? Barely, it seems, at the conclusion of the play. It's a tale so unbelievable that if it hadn't actually happened, Hollywood could not have invented it.
With so few tickets reaming, please order yours ASAP to guarantee your seat at this extraordinary event! Tickets for THE MANOR are $65 with performances taking place at Greystone Mansion, in Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Drive (above Sunset Blvd.), Beverly Hills, CA 90210, with free onsite parking. The performance lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission, and it is best to wear comfortable, soft-soled shoes and to bring a sweater or jacket as the mansion is not heated and gets chilly on cold evenings.
Evening dates (performances begin at 6:00pm): January 17, 18, 19, 25, 26 & February 1, 2. All scheduled matinee performances are already sold out. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 310-364-3606 in advance to gain admittance to the show. No tickets are sold at the door. For more information, please visit www.theatre40.org
Photo credit: Mona Lee Wylde and Ed Krieger