Family strife, the marriage of a kept man, a business deal gone bad, foreshadowing of the Second World War, an unrequited love triangle bereft of one of its lines, and murder/suicide: these are all just a few of the subjects addressed in Theatre 40’s latest production, The Manor.
A fictional account centering around one of Los Angeles’ most historically venerated families, playwright Katherine Bates takes us on a journey from mirth to misery in deference to the Doheny family as portrayed by the MacAlister family in the dramatized version in a tale of family strife.
Said legacy, a near living, breathing entity in unto itself, encompasses a heritage so texturally yet inadvertently woven into the tapestry that surrounds some of the most intriguing L.A. lore it is the stuff of historian-based and ghost hunter intrigue alike. (But more on that later!)
Set in the same house as the purported bygone events, The Greystone Manor in Beverly Hills serves as something of an nth character. And the experience itself is like no other. Imagine, if you will, (or if you won’t, it really doesn’t matter because I am going to describe it to you thusly) that you are the stagehands in a superlatively elaborate play, a dramedy that transpires on the great canvas of life rather than any wood and grease paint theatre.
Then, instead of changing sets by will and sleight of hand, you do so via your own two feet bringing scene changes to yourself or you to them, rather than observing black t-shirt clad continuity-breakers as they invade any given living room/bed room/vomitorium thereby almost breaking the fourth wall!
The play opens in the living room on that of a festive wedding party of a young Sean MacAlister and his bride-to-be Abby giddily anticipating the loss of her virginity. Though excited via an almost 21st-century transparency, one wonders if there isn’t a little too much enthusiasm thrown at an additional age-appropriate wedding guest, Gregory Pugh, a houseboy of Abby’s father and one of her best friends since her youth.
Irrespective of Abby’s fervor, it is all a moot point – in a proper society that is – as Gregory, not only of a much lower social stratum than the bride-to-be, is also married-by-manipulation to cockney crooning actress Henrietta Havesham Pugh; notwithstanding, a steel line of tension enveloping said love/hate rectangle is palpable throughout the balance of the play. As the menfolk will do in the midst of a merger of family lineage, so too will they retire to the study for an aperitif and tête-à-tête to foment world peace by way of transactional intrigue and a merging of their own resources. This is MacAlister patriarch Charles’ job as Senator Alfred Winston informs him of vulnerabilities he observes surrounding Pearl Harbor (all the way back in the late 20s no less, talk about prescience) and tenders mining rights to Ojos Negros in exchange for MacAlister’s funding of a defensive naval base in the much-needed vicinity.
At the play’s conclusion both scenarios come to a head in a climax that echoes off the black and white checkered floors in torment and torture and stimulates any tears the audience might have been holding back or storing up for any acting in which they may eventually have to engage later in the week. (Half of them are actors themselves to be sure. C’mon now … we are in L.A …)
Once witnessed, it will be evident as to the why of said story’s dramatic imprint on harrowing L.A. history and any and all possible merit as to the alleged ghost stories that haunt the hallowed halls of the house in question to this day.
A solid production from start to finish, the scene changes or audience changes in relation to each scene, go off without a hitch. James the Butler along with Ursula the Housekeeper and Ellie the mute maid, act as most consummate hosts and hostesses and embedded non-continuity breaking stage hands in the most endearing of fashions.
Daniel Lench, in his portrayal of James the Butler, is both hospitable and engaging, not to mention thoroughly likable and superlative in every way!
Katherine Henryk as Ursula reminds one of your favorite aunt as she guides the audience room to room and recounts fond tales revolving around the MacAlister family. She also possesses very gentle eyes and an unsurpassed warmth which one will need to get them through the play’s conclusion. Esther Richman as Ellie is both cute and comedic in her silent yet expressive empathy and attentiveness.
Kira Brannlund as Henrietta Havesham Pugh rivals that of the perfect Melrose Place vamp, or most vexing bachelorette on The Bachelor as she is just what the Doctor of Love ordered as a liniment to one’s love of hate—hating fictional characters that is … Daniel Leslie fits the bill perfectly as the likable but loutish Senator Alfred Winston, reminiscent of every character actor/personified business tycoon you ever witnessed in any given TV show or historic play. Melanie MacQueen as his wife Cora—Cora Winston is sympathetic and arresting, Sol Mason as Sean MacAlister is refreshingly innocent and earnest as the groom-to-be and inadvertent business partner to his father. Mikel Parraga-Willis as Gregory Pugh, is exceedingly sympathetic and palpably troubled. Annalee Scott as Abby MacAlister is both innocent and emotionally weathered in all the right places, and Martin Thompson as her father Frank Parsons has total command of the stage. This is dually advantageous as he is also the play’s director, and a darned good one at that!
Heading up the family spectacle are Mr. and Mrs. MacAlister aka Marion and Charles, as portrayed by Carol Potter and Darby Hinton respectively: A dynamic and dazzling duo to be sure. Carol Potter, best known to many of Generation X as Cindy Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210, gives a soft but powerful performance from mother of the groom in Act I to wife of the corrupt-by-association in Act II all in the midst of burying her son.
Darby Hinton best known as Israel Boone on the family favorite show Daniel Boone is completely arresting and compelling as the family patriarch Charles MacAlister in a performance well worth recommending!
All in all, an exceedingly solid production and colorful, if not, unique night of theatre to behold!
The Manor runs at the Greystone Manor until Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018 and commences each night at 6 p.m. For tickets and information, please visit www.theatre40.org
Check out our other coverage of The Manor.