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The Haunting of Hill House ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 21, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

A highly regarded American mystery writer firmly ensconced in lofty literary circles, author Shirley Jackson had a way with things that go bump in the night.  Through her horror novels, The Haunting of Hill House and later, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both of which predated both Stephen King and Anne Rice, she became an icon in the field of horror writing.  Joyce Carol Oates who edited an anthology of Jackson’s work wrote, “Characterized by the caprice and fatalism of fairy tales, the fiction of Shirley Jackson exerts a mordant, hypnotic spell.”

Danielle Taylor (Mrs. Dudley) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

As a result of her influence on the genre the Shirley Jackson Award, created posthumously, is given for Outstanding Achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic.  Somewhat recently there has been a real revival of Jackson’s novels.  Netflix’s first season series of The Haunting of Hill House debuted in 2018 and will follow up with a second season in 2020.

James Murphy (Luke) Bruce Alan Rauscher (Dr. Montague)  ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

To get us into the Halloween frame of mind and encourage a visit from the spirits of the dead, Director Maggie Mumford takes us into the confines of Hill House – a dreary castle where a young poltergeist; a professor, his wife and her lover; a society gamin; the handsome heir to the mansion; and a ghoulish housekeeper have gathered to research paranormal activity.  Well, not the housekeeper, she’s just a cringe-worthy overseer.

Bruce Alan Rauscher (Dr. Montague) James Murphy (Luke) Kirk Lambert (Arthur) Patricia Nicklin (Mrs. Montague) Shannon Labadie seated (Eleanor) Kathy Ohlhaber (Theodora) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Set in a Victorian era parlor beneath a portrait of the late owner, the characters slowly reveal themselves, and their motives.  Luke Sanderson’s aunt is the current owner of Hill House. He’s a dashing young man and frequent tippler whose intentions are to support Dr. Montague, the lead investigator.  Eleanor is the pretty, and peculiar, young woman whose mother recently passed away, and Theodora, an outspoken young woman full of frolic, who befriends the brooding girl forming a sisterly bond to protect her against the spirits who haunt the house after sundown.  Under a pall of family scandal, madness, suicide, murder and lawsuits, the motley crew attempts to document supernatural phenomena within its evil walls.  As Dr. Montague tells the assembled invitees, “Some houses are just born bad.”

Kirk Lambert (Arthur) Patricia Nicklin (Mrs. Montague) Shannon Labadie (Eleanor) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

But it isn’t until Mrs. Montague arrives with her crusty lover, and a planchette as spirit guide, that the house revs up its hauntings with ominous creaks, ferocious knocking, howling winds and troubled spirits crying out from the grave.  Credit Sound Designer, Janice Rivera, Lighting Design by JK Lighting Design, and period costumes by Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley for a spooky experience that goes far beyond the horribly stilted, and entirely re-imagined drama, that has recklessly been co-opted from Jackson’s original novel.  I don’t have the heart to fault the actors, they are trying to breathe life, or death as it is, into the whole exasperating script.

James Murphy (Luke) Kathy Ohlhaber (Theodora) Shannon Labadie (Eleanor) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

With Shannon Labadie as Eleanor, Kathy Ohlhaber as Theodora, Bruce Alan Rauscher as Dr. Montague, James Murphy as Luke Sanderson, Patricia Nicklin as Mrs. Montague, Kirk Lambert as Arthur Parker, and Danielle Taylor as Mrs. Dudley.

Through November 9th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

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