DOUBLE DOOR debuted on Broadway in 1933, with a subsequent play by Elizabeth McFadden, debuting on Broadway in 1945. This later version is currently being presented at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills as the second production of their 2015-2016 season. And I advise you not to miss it!
It’s 1910 New York and eldest sibling Victoria Van Bret (Rhonda Lord, in a star-making turn) controls the vast financial holdings of the Van Bret family from her favorite chair in the sitting room in the grand old Van Bret mansion on Park Avenue. She maintains her dominance by browbeating her younger sister, Caroline (Diana Angelina), and half-brother Rip (Ben Theobald) who has recently recovered from a protracted illness. Each portrayal is wildly emotional and you will honestly sympathize with the two poor souls who must bend to the will of their over-gearing and incredibly prejudiced sister who just wants to be sure she will always control the family fortune – no matter what.
The play begins on the day Rip is taking a bride, the lovely young nurse named Anne (Annalee Scott who allows us to see deeply into her ever-changing moods) who, along with his doctor John Sully (Christopher Franciosa who often adds a touch of reason to his scenes with the family), has brought him back to good health. Unfortunately Victoria hates Anne, clearly believing her to be below Rip’s station. Anne loves Rip, however, and their relationship can’t be dislodged, despite Victoria’s worst efforts. Or can it?
As the play unfolds, you will kept on the edge of your seat as Victoria attempts to sabotage the marriage by various means, including nasty visits to the family’s secret vault to which only she knows the combination. Will Victoria decide that ultimately the only way to remove Anne is to kill her, or will Rip be able to save his lovely wife from a horrible death? I’m not giving it away as you deserve to be lavishly entertained as much as I was seeing this entertaining dramatic thriller on opening night.
Other standouts in the cast are Katharine Kimball as the much-put-upon maid Louise. She hurries and scurries across the stage frequently, even parading with a very cute dog during scene breaks. Head housekeeper Avery is portrayed by Elain Rinehart whose evil looks could stop a train, not to mention the other household staff members. Just how much does she know and how much will she tell others about what is going on? Theatre 40 favorite David Hunt Stafford plays Neff, the family’s financial advisor who tries to control exactly what happens to their fortune. Of course, as the family secrets are revealed, Stafford has a field day sharing Neff’s incredible surprise at Victoria’s dastardly deeds.
Much of the credit goes to director Bruce Gray who keeps the action moving along at a quick pace, allowing the many twists and turns to unfold naturally within the story. He also allows all the actors to explore the many emotional levels of all the characters fully so that we truly believe the anger, fear, anxiety and disappointment rampant in the Van Bret home. The remarkably intricate set by Jeff G. Rack featuring ornate furnishings, the hidden vault, as well as the center stage double doors referred to in the title, along with wondrous period-perfect costumes by Michele Young, add authenticity to every heart-wrenching and spine-tingling scene.
From the moment you enter Theatre 40, the mood is set with the mysterious sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski. And when someone looks out the window down to Park Avenue, be prepared to think someone is going to fall to their death thanks to the realistic street sounds below. But will they? I’ll never tell.