So with the preshow mood sufficiently broken, we progressed into a performance that didn’t seem willing to be the scary story that it set out to present. Laughter abounds in this performance – mostly from the characters on stage, who are more interested in guffawing over each other’s little insecurities than actually experiencing the terror of spending night after night in an angrily haunted house (Leslie Ann Handelman’s Theodora was particularly guilty of this foible). There are a few moments of genuine scariness that end all too soon, and the production seems to want to forget them as soon as they end, opting toward a Noel Coward-esque drawing room comedy in the meanwhile. This frivolity takes the air out of the spirits’ seduction of Eleanor (Robyn Lipnick Mewha), and the climax in the tower – though creatively staged – is anything but climactic. And with so much cheerfulness throughout, the play never really earned the comic relief that arrives in the form of Mrs. Montague (Judy Dery) and Arthur Parker (Anthony Guest). Dr. Montague (Hugh Maguire) falls short of the authority he needed to be the grounding force in the (never fully realized) chaos. And though Peter C. Prouty’s Luke Sanderson was charming, I don’t think they ever really found his function within the play. The performers are engaging, but they do not seem to have been directed into the show they were doing, so much as the fluffier, more droll show the director wished they were doing.
Kristen Gribben’s scenic design was serviceable, and dealt well with the practical concerns of a play that occasionally ventures beyond the requisite large, formal sitting room, but there was a lot of wasted, open space. Still, her contribution to the haunting of Eleanor and Theodora in the upstairs room was one of the best (among disappointingly few) scares in the show. Reid G. Johnson’s lighting design had moments of good clean spookiness, but was overall a little clunky. And some of the haunting effects turned out a bit hokier than either designer probably wanted.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and adapted for the stage by F. Andrew Leslie (Director: Travis W. West; Mrs. Dudley: Ruth Crawford; Mrs. Montague: Judy Dery; Arthur Parker: Anthony Guest; Theodora: Leslie Ann Handelman; Eleanor Vance: Robyn Lipnick Mewha; Dr. Montague: Hugh Maguire; Luke Sanderson: Peter C. Prouty) continues at Meadow Brook Theatre through October 28. Tickets range from $31-$40. For more information visit www.mbtheatre.com.