April 15, 2015

Ravenscroft a whirlwind of devious deceptions

As published in The Erin Advocate

At first, when presented with a comic gothic murder mystery, one might be tempted to keep track of all the plot details, in hopes of predicting who dunnit.

However, in the current production of Ravenscroft by Erin Theatre at Centre 2000, it soon becomes apparent that the entertainment lies in the lies, and that the truth has only a bit part.

Set in the parlour of a 1905 Yorkshire manor house, the play features a huge staircase that is central to the story, in an attractive set designed by Susanna Lamy. Original music by Howard Lopez creates the mood very well.

The action is a series of interviews by Inspector Ruffing, played with most suitable exasperation by Chris Reid, trying to extract the truth about two mysterious staircase deaths from the five resident females. The process drives him to drink, an unfortunate encounter with an urn and a most unlikely romance.

The plot is like a machine, swapping all manner of crazy stories in and out of the limelight as the women try to convince the inspector that there were no murders, or if there were, they were done by someone else. In an effective bit of staging, characters not involved in the current scene do not exit, but sit in an elevated row of chairs like an audience, reacting to the play.

The motives for the ladies’ webs of lies include the usual suspects: money, jealousy, arrogance, tensions between the upper and lower classes, insecurity, visions of ghosts, callous disrespect for police authority, protecting little children, the need to escape into bizarre fantasies, and above all, to avoid talking about sex (and cross-dressing).

Laura Schnablegger plays Marcy, the beautiful governess who is the prime suspect in the death of a manservant who had been making advances on her (and as it turns out, everyone else). She has the confidence to drive the action in its required circles.

Director Kathryn DeLory has clearly urged her cast to keep up a brisk pace, which is quite essential. At times, though, they go so fast that they’re tripping on their words. They need to keep up the energy, but slow down just enough to get the lines out cleanly.

Part of the difficult challenge presented by Don Nigro’s script is that it is mainly words about things that might have happened in the past. There’s many a witty aside, but little in the way of current action.

This is allayed somewhat by the antics of the subservient servant Dolly, played delightfully by Denise Rowe with lots of facial expressions and physical stage business as she struggles to reveal her story.

At the April 9 performance, Assistant Stage Manager Angela Gibson did an admirable job as the domineering servant Mrs. French, filling in for Carol McCone Day who was ill.

Carol Beauchamp is very good as Mrs. Ravenscroft, who embodies many a clich̩ about the upper classes Рaloof, conniving, lecherous, abusive to the servants and preoccupied with keeping up appearances.

Paulina Grant shows considerable skill in the role of Gillian Ravenscroft, a teenager who appears to have lost touch with reality, but who is actually quite devious and knows more than she lets on.

So if you go to see Ravenscroft, don’t be expecting a mystery built on revealing the truth, but rather one that has fun with the notion that the truth is boring, elusive and quite possibly irrelevant.

Performances continue Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, and Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm. Tickets are $20 – call 905-873-686, or go to erintheatre.ca for more information.