Review — Scandal, Murder, and the Roaring 20’s at Greystone Mansion

Relive the 1920’s, the bribery scandal of turn of the century oil baron Edward Doheny, and the murder of his only child, Edward Jr. (Ned), in the palatial residence where it occurred – the 55-room Greystone Mansion on a hill in Beverly Hills.

The true story involves President Warren G. Harding, his Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall (who went to prison), and Edward Sr., who escaped punishment for paying a bribe to obtain rights to an oil well that was being declassified from military use. Primarily because of the untimely death of Ned and a close friend in a mysterious murder-suicide at Greystone just four months after he and his family had moved into their meticulously created and lavishly furnished home, the investigation into Edward Sr. was dropped.

In Theatre 40’s “The Manor,” the details have been twisted a bit, the characters have different names, a mine is involved instead of oil fields, etc., but the story of the actual original inhabitants of the mansion is there for your your fly-on-the-wall enjoyment as you follow the characters through the mansion as the drama unfolds. The house staff (Ursula the housekeeper, James the Butler, and Ellie the mute maid) introduce us to the family, as their ghosts arise and glide silently into the grand room in slow motion. A split second later they come alive and we are magically transformed into guests at the extravagant wedding of Sean and Abby (which has no shortage of alcohol in spite of Prohibition), enjoying the gorgeous 20’s fashion, music, news, and name-dropping (although the drinks and hors d’oeuvres never quite make it to our seats). Then we’re in the den with Charles MacAlister, the patriarch of the family and father of Sean, and the corrupt, gambling-addicted Senator Alfred Winston. We listen and nod in understanding as they dance around the negotiation of their deal and connive on the delivery of the bribe…oh, my mistake, I mean “loan.” Then it’s a visit to the black-and-white floored play/dance/party overflow room, where we observe the alcoholic, angry, and psychologically volatile Gregory, a lifelong friend of the bride and employee of her family, and his flamboyant, money-hungry, wannabe celebrity chanteuse wife, Henrietta. Then a sneak peak in the bedroom, where Abby, the nervous (but eager) virgin bride, is waiting for Sean, her husband-to-be, to sneak away from the festivities to consummate the marriage pre-ceremony. As the political favor and bribery scandal escalate and threaten to destroy the lives of all involved, attorney, confidante and father of the bride Frank Parsons plies his trade and loyalty to try to save the MacAlisters from ruin. Meanwhile, the tension among Sean, Abby, and Gregory reaches a boiling point and the quite dramatic and realistic final tragedy unfolds on the grand staircase.

This is the 17th season for this play, and most performances sell out every year. With only 7 performances left, if you are intrigued, grab your ticked as soon as possible, you won’t be disappointed. The actors are evenly talented, the story is intriguing (even though you know the tragic conclusion because it is based on real events), and being absorbed into the various sets and seeing the action unfold in the actual rooms is more fun and realistic than sitting in a theater watching it unfold on a stage.

Tip: Arrive early to wander the grounds a bit before the action starts.