By Sir Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Kevin Hagen
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Athenaeum Theatre
Well crafted and well staged mystery departs from Ayckbourn’s comical farces
In the year of one playwright, this year Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Eclipse Theatre presents a fine, scary, well staged version of Ayckbourn’s 1994 mystery, Haunting Julia. This three person mystery is surprising even as it appears to be predictable but since Ayckbourn is a master at audience manipulation, it unfolds with razor-sharp timing to jolt us.
Director and set designer Kevin Hagen with terrific lighting (by Michael C. Smith) and eerie sound design (by Michael Kunc) have the elements of a mystery in place. Here timing is everything and this mystery reminds me of A Woman in Black. But it takes more that well structured and finely timed effects to make a mystery work.
It takes a well crafted plot and invested characters well acted to create the atmosphere and tone necessary for a shocking mystery to be suspenseful. Ayckboyrn has written his part so now the three players must deliver.
We meet Andy (JP Pierson- doing his finest performance to date here) as Julia’s former boyfriend who returns to see the memorial to Julia Lukin- the dead musical prodigy lost 12 years ago in the very room now displayed museum styled by Joe (Norm Woodel), Julia’s father. Joe is still obsessed with his departed prodigy as he can’t seem to let go or come to grips with her mysterious death in the room 12 years ago. He has turned her house into a music center and he has preserved her room into a shrine to his beloved daughter.
Andy is summoned by Joe not only to see the center but to aid him to possible reconnect with Julia or her spirit. Andy’s discomfort at being in Julia’s room once again after he discovered her dead body hints that he may know more about the circumstances of her death than he has revealed. When Ken (Ted Hoerl), a self identified psychic, arrives after he sent a letter to Joe offering his services, Andy is furious at the apparent manipulation of Joe by Ken.
I can’t reveal more so as not to spoil the intricate details that shift events and perceptions around into a most effective and somewhat shocking conclusion. I can say that this show delivers a powerful effect that can only be experienced in an intimate setting in a live stage performance. Credit a powerful turn by Norm Woodel as the obsessed father with a carefully nuanced performance by Ted Hoerl as the psychic/janitor. But JP Piersion’s performance that moves from skeptic to guilt-ridden to shocked participant anchors the show. Pierson was terrific here.
Haunting Julia is a powerful theatrical experience that delivers expertly the elements of a fine mystery–and–it is done live before our eyes, and it works. Kudos to Eclipse Theatre for their theatrical craftsmanship.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 8, 2013
For more info checkout the Haunting Julia page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 7739356875, www.eclipsetheatre.com, tickets $22 – $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through December 8, 2013