THE MANOR. . .IT HAPPENED AT GREYSTONE
REVIEW: THE MANOR
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Have you ever noticed the giant mansion that extends westward and upwards into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains? That’s Greystone Mansion: a 55-room Tudor-style estate on Loma Vista Drive. Built in 1928 by oil tycoon Edward Doheny, Sr., as a wedding gift for his son Ned. The estate was saved from demolition by the City of Beverly Hills in 1965 and was designated as a city park in 1971 joining the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. At the moment Greystone Mansion is also the location of Theatre 40’s production of The Manor written by Katherine Bates. This interactive play allows the audience to follow actors through Greystone Mansion and witness the drama based on the true events that took place at the mansion in the 1920s.
This play is in its fourteenth year and has surpassed its 200th performance. Plain and simple: location, location, location—that’s the allure of this work. Who wouldn’t want to roam around this famous mansion at night? Bates’ play is a fictional account based on the true story of the Doheny family (MacAlister family in the play). The play starts in the mansion’s heyday and on the wedding day of Edward Doheny’s son Ned L. Doheny, Jr., and Lucy Marceline Smith. Here we follow all the events leading up to the scandal of Mr. Doheny. Accordingly, act two begins ten years later in the midst of the Teapot Dome scandal concluding in the murder-suicide that occurs on one of the most famous staircases in the world.
With a running time of three hours, Bates’ play, which feels more like a dated teleplay, fails to sustain drama or intrigue—without the spectacle of Greystone Mansion there would be no play—an unfortunate dramatic liability. However, what remains to peak the audience’s interests are the marvelous sights within Greystone Mansion: hand carved oak banisters, balustrades and rafters, ornate chimneys designed and crafted by different artists, the floors of the grand hall showcasing black and white inlaid marble and the elaborate living room with a balcony where musicians often performed. Come to the The Manor for the play and stay to see the opulence and craftsmanship of the era typified by this gorgeous property.
With The Manor it’s all about the company you keep; in this case the wonderful group twelve actors who fill in the blanks of this static play; they are the absolute embodiment of the characters they represent from the mute maid to the bold Mr. MacAlister. What’s more astounding is that the actors must perform their scenes three times in one night, (since the audience is broken up into three groups early on in the performance) an exhausting feat that appears to be facile given that the scenes are always interesting and fresh.
Initially upon meeting these characters we can’t help but notice the bride and groom Sean MacAlister (Ben Gavin) and Abby MacAlister (Shelby Kocee) as we follow their story throughout. Gavins’s performance is exact and disciplined—the cool-headed son, husband and friend. Kocce’s performance is kind and simple, she’s the excited bride, loyal friend and wife; she gives you a sense of this with her saccharine voice and telling eyes.
The most dramatic and intense performance is that of Gregory Pugh (Caleb Salvens) who from his first entrance let’s you know that he’s deeply troubled—his internal disquietude slowly boils until his final moment in act two. The most comical yet forceful performance is that of Henrietta Havesham Pugh (Annalee Scott), she’s the brazen, devilish gold-digger that just won’t let go, with her cockney English accent, colorful personality and attire she’s the black sheep in a herd of white that can’t help but grab your attention.
The Manor is more a “theatrical experience” and a unique opportunity to visit Beverly Hills’ Greystone Manor than a “traditional night at the theater”, although the cast will make sure that you’re always in the best of company. The Manor runs from January 8 to February 5, 2016. Reservations must be made by phone in advance by calling (310) 694-6118; there is no online ticketing available.