Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson
Adapted and directed by Paul Edwards
At City Lit Theater
Quirky mystery drama unfolds as fine entertainment
Paul Edwards, the adapter and director of Shirley Jackson’s modern Gothic novel, We Have Always Lived In The Castle, has another triumph. His play is a quirky, often funny and completely empathetic glimpse into the world of New England provincialism, the dark side of family ties, and the supernatural.
We meet Blackwood sisters and their invalid uncle as scandal forced the three into seclusion from their rural New England community. Utilizing every inch of Joe Schermoly’s detailed set, we experience how the three live happily isolated as their family love and total acceptance of one another fuels a copacetic existence.
We see the child-like and precocious Merricat (a winning performance by Elise Walter) as she fantasizes about flying to the moon in her whimsical escapes from her isolation. Does she poses supernatural powers? We also experience her chastisement at the hands of the local villagers when Merricat shops for supplies on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. Constance (the excellent Shelia Willis) is both the housekeeper and cook for the Blackwood’s. She is the family’s strength. Uncle Julian (the reliable Kingsley Day) is the sickly (both physically and mentally) living in a wheelchair and writing his long account of the family scandal. Life in the castle is peaceful.
The local villagers scorn Merricat on her supply runs because of the six year old mystery that they feel taints the Blackwoods. Constance was tried an acquitted – “not only of the deed, but of the intention” – of murdering of four family members by poisoning them at a family dinner. Arsenic was placed in the sugar bowl and blueberries were served requiring sugar for most tastes. Constance never used sugar on anything but someone put the poison in the sugar. Suspicions linger as Constance plans her return to society.
Things become unraveled with the arrival of Cousin Charles (Thad Anzur) who has his own agenda for the family. He seems to be a fortune hunter who seeks Constance’s hand as he asserts his will on the complacent family. Merricat instantly dislikes Charles as tensions mount. Will this estranged relative unravel the tranquility of daily life for the Blackwoods?
We like the three Blackwoods and we cheer for them despite our uncomfortable feeling that these misfits could be murderers. When Merricat acts out, we see how ugly provincialism can get as the girls strong bond allows them to survive. The action in act two is furious and the unraveling of the mystery who-done-it is resolved with a few clever twists.
Edwards’ cast was most effective with Day, Walter and Willis being totally engaging. This quirky glimpse into the macabre world of the Blackwood’s is a tempting treat. We sympathize with their plight despite us knowing that one of the three may be a murderer. That’s a tribute to the writing and the honest acting.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 2, 2012
For more info checkout the We Have Always Lived In The Castle page at theatreinchicago.com
At City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, Call 773-293-3682, www.citylit.org, tickets $25, Some Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through April 1, 2012