This was an interesting production, for a number of reasons.
Go on a Saturday if you can, 30 minutes early. The director, Beau Mahurin, gives a talk with background on the production and influences 'The Haunting" has had on cinema and literature. As part of that talk, he mentions having a degree in paranormal studies. There starts the noticeable efforts to play with your mind a bit.
As a person, things that go bump in the night hold little interest for me. I like a good monster movie now and then, but horror and ghost stories bring out a very cynical side of me, and I need to admit a bias on this: I find these efforts ranging from humorous to boring, and very, VERY infrequently rising to a standard of admiration without fright. I've done my time in Halloween shows, haunted houses, etc., etc., and it really takes something to get past all that experience and familiarity with the processes involved. I can be startled, but it's rare I get fully involved to the point of fear.
I say this because while I believe this show is excellent, my review might not read that way - so let me be clear, it IS a production you should see.
I also won't give out spoilers - that'd be a crime for this sort of show!
Sound and Lights are particularly well done in this show; lights to set the mood and sounds to make you jumpy are part and parcel of the genre, and this production does not disappoint! Daniel Roscoe (Lights) and the director Beau Mahurin (Sound) should be applauded!
EXCEPT - for the ongoing, nerve-wracking Ground Loop buzz coming through the speakers the entire night. I left at the end of the show with a terrific headache caused by this, and if you don't know what to look for it can be a horrible thing to track down. Patchers, here's some help (and reader, if you don't want the technical details, jump to the next paragraph): the problem is caused by parts of the sound system being in the same power circuit as some of your lights. You can tell because the annoying buzz changes with the intensity of the lights in the house. Something is generating a buzz in the ground-connectors that is being picked up by the speakers. The solution is to isolate the sound from the circuit the lights use (which isn't always feasible) OR to use an adapter to go from three-prong to two-prong connectors for the sound system (which keeps the buzz from getting to the speakers. It's a pain to track down, but honestly better the sound techs than the paying customers!
I found the characters, with only one exception, frustrating and annoying - and believe the script calls for them to be this way, so rather than a complaint it's a compliment to the cast on making their characters consciously disagreeable, yet relatable.
The first character you see is Jennifer Mendez' Mrs. Dudley - the maid/caretaker/cook for the Hill House, who starts off creepy and distant, making you instantly suspicious of her. Over time that façade cracks in a private moment or two, but she's always in her creepy character with the rest of the cast, and Mendez wears this creepiness like the apron of her costume on stage.
Mrs. Dudley is followed onstage by Eleanor (Taylor Joan Perry) and Theodora (Katy Polimeno). Eleanor appears fragile from the start, and Theodora's comes across as a loud Paris-Hilton'ish social climber believing her own press. Over the course of the show they bond to a degree, but manage to stick to their base roles as fragile and selfish. Perry and Polimeno work well together, almost band together against the other actors and each are provided excellent moments from the script for their shots in the spotlight. Polimeno's turns stress Theodora's selfish focus to good effect, and Perry, amongst other stage moments, gives a *terrific* scream - Jamie Lee Curtis would have been proud (and concerned at the competition!).
Completing the distaff-side of the cast, Jessa Halterman appears as Mrs. Montague, who could have been pulled directly as Delia Deetz from "Beetlejuice" - the character is abrasive, annoying, superior, and spoiled. (Yes, yes - based on the timing, Delia Deetz was probably based on Mrs. Montague, not the other way around). Mrs. Halterman seem to have a blast in this role, she sinks her teeth into it and rats it all over. You really despise her by the end of the play - great work Jessa!
Three men make up the rest of the cast - Charlie Halterman as Dr. Montague (yes, the married couple plays the married couple), Luke played by Ridge Patterson, and Arthur portrayed by Mark Lehnowsky. Dr. Montague asked these people to come to Hill House to look into paranormal activities, and channels every frustrating academic you've met without dropping into the absent-minded-professor trope. Halterman leans into this, and provides my only real acting complaint - some of his lines come so slowly I questioned whether it was character or not *quite* having the lines down. The fact that I'm not sure is testament to Charlie's efforts. Luke seems to be a rich, entitled, playboy type, and over time - that doesn't change. One heroic moment aside, he's all but useless, and Patterson succeeds in bringing Luke along with a constant twinkle in his eye. Unlike Luke, Arthur IS useless, a hypocritical private school headmaster who's a sycophantic yes-man to Mrs. Montague - which sounds harsh until the end of the play, when you realize it's spot on. Lehnowsky (per his bio) hasn't acted in more than 10 years, but I'd not know if he didn't say so - his Arthur was a horrible person disguised as a leader of children - comprising the biggest parental horror story available.
The performances of the cast are uniformly nuanced and entirely...annoying. I've looked for synonyms, and that one still works best.
The set is VERY good, extremely detailed in a way that reminded me of a Dave Clevenger set from Icehouse Theater in Mt Dora - and what do you see in the program? a credit to Clevenger for Properties assistance.
While the horror/ghost story/paranormal angles left me a bit cold, there were a lot of fans in the audience, and fan or not this show should be seen. Get your tickets ASAP.
Rating: B+ (higher if not for that buzz!). Not friendly to children under 13 or so due to the horror aspects.