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The Haunting of Hill House


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The Haunting of Hill House

Adapted & Directed by Paul Edwards

At City Lit Theatre, Chicago

Lack of terror mares classic ghost story.

Adapter/director Paul Edwards’ The Haunting of Hill House somehow misses the mark in the stage adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 ghost story, now considered a classic of the genre. Unfortunately, Haunting simply doesn’t contain enough  plausible terror to sustain. Jackson’r novel cleverly uses psychological terror experienced or imagined by the four residents of Hill House. This ghost story, to work, must terrify audiences as much as the characters. This production simply never reaches that level despite much lighting and sound effects ( tech direction by Jeremiah Barr).

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This production never gets the atmosphere at the Hill House eerie enough to get us to believe that poltergeists are inhabiting the place. Dr. Montague (Edward Kuffert) is a scientist bent on writing about “the greatest haunted house ever” so he invites folks who profess past experiences with paranormal events. He rents Hill House for the summer (circa 1950’s) to experience ghosts; he has invited a dozen to join him but only a few respond to him.

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He ends up with Theodora (Mary Anne Bowman), Eleanor (Julia Kessler) and a relative of Hugh Crain, the Hill House’s original owner, Luke (Charlie Rasmann).  Together, the four residents  live isolated with only  the caretakers, the Dudley’s (Evan Johnson and Elaine Carlson) to help them.

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The set design (by Dustin Petegrew) and the lighting (by Devin Carroll) fail to evoke the right atmosphere for a ghost story. Add the neurotic behavior from Eleanor that quickly becomes whinny, histrionics  as played by Julia Kessler with the on-and-off again scared Theodora, understated by Mary Anne Bowman, and Haunting just doesn’t reach a scary enough threshold to be a legitimate ghost story. We never fear for what might happen here.

Director Edwards sprinkles enough comedy into the show that it  plays more as a satirical funny show than a scary ghost story.The line between what terror is only in the mind of the beholder and what terror is emoted from the poltergeists is not clear enough for credulity. This production garners more laughs than terror. Better it gets billed as a satire of the ghost genre since that is how it plays on stage. So if you’re going to City Lit, don’t expect to be terrified, but there may be enough laughs to please?

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 31, 2014

For more info checkout  The Haunting of Hill House page at

At City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL,, tickets $29, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through May 11, 2014


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