Every January I look forward to attending THE MANOR by Kathrine Bates, presented by Theatre 40 inside the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills where the story upon which it is based actually took place. Now celebrating its 17th year, the annual production has become a Los Angeles/Beverly Hills institution with several performances selling out even before tickets go on sale to the public. Its popularity, no doubt, is due to the scandalous true story as told by the talented actors, costumed to time-period perfection, as well as the chance to be inside the grand and glorious architectural landmark in which the events of 90 years ago actually took place, performed in two acts taking place 10 years apart. The names of all characters in the Doheny saga have been changed, of course, “to protect the guilty” as we are told before the play begins by the mansion’s loyal butler, James (Daniel Lench who has masterfully played the part for 6 years).
After walking through the wondrous park grounds surrounding the mansion, audience members are escorted into the grand hall “living room” of majestic Greystone, built in 1928 as a gift to Doheny’s only son and heir which was a happy, family home for too short a time. The first floor rooms used for the play’s scenes are marvelously decorated by the show’s producer David Hunt Stafford and Jackie Petras. Once seated, the audience is split into 3 smaller groups and led by the household staff (Daniel Lench, Katherine Henryk, and Esther Richman) from room to room in the lovingly restored Greystone Mansion as different scenes of the narrative are portrayed, leading up to a shocking and apparent murder and suicide on the grand staircase. Be sure to take the time to read posted signs with photos from 1928 and 1945 in each room.
Director Martin Thompson has re-staged a few of the scenes this year, adding a better chance for the audience to seat around the action and feel more a part of what is going on as characters enter and exit scenes around them. Thompson, known for his wondrous character portrayals in many Theatre 40 productions, lends his refined demeanor to Frank Parsons, Esq., the long-time lawyer of the fabulously wealthy family patriarch and mining tycoon Charles MacAlister, authentically portrayed by Darby Hinton with just the right amount of good-old-boy charm, swagger and a trusting nature even though he knows better.
As MacAlister’s son Sean (newcomer to the party Eric Keitel) and his new wife, Parsons’ daughter Abby (lithe and lovely Annalee Scott) celebrate their marriage, Charles makes an illegal if well-intentioned loan to Senator Alfred Winston (a stand-in for Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, portrayed by another annual favorite Daniel Leslie as a good-old Southern boy with a serious gambling problem). In reality, both men face imminent disgrace and worse in the oncoming Teapot Dome bribery scandal, which engulfed the Warren Harding administration, here represented by a deal made for lucrative mining rights in exchange for building up Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. But it’s the matter of a personal cash loan to Winston to pay off gambling debts, seen as a bribe to make the lucrative deal happen, that sends the two men into a lengthy and costly legal battle with the government.
Returning to the production this year as the two men’s wives are Carol Potter as Marion MacAlister and Melanie MacQueen as Cora Winston. Both display a bit of distain for the other, perhaps out of jealousy but probably more so for the lack of trust each has with her husband which has caused them much social disgrace. After their final scene together, it is very apparent as the Winstons leave the mansion together with their backs turned, you know they will never be invited back again. Not so for Leslie and MacQueen, married in real life, who no doubt will continue playing these two characters for as long as THE MANOR runs!
Another guest at the wedding is the handyman and Abby’s jilted flame Gregory Pugh (handsome Mikel Parraga-Wells who returns for his second time and nails the role) and his flapper-entertainer wife Henrietta (Kira Brannlund who is dressed a bit more classy in this year’s production, yet still manages to flirt her way around all the men as she drops black feathers from her boa), a mismatched couple if there ever was one. For you see, Greg wanted to marry Abby but was forbidden to do so by her father who had greater plans for his daughter’s financial future. It’s apparent Abby really did love Greg and would have married him had her father not forbid it. No doubt Greg’s descent into alcoholism would have been avoided had he been able to marry the real love of his life rather than marrying a gold-digger on the rebound whose only real interest in him was to further her career and gain a more stable financial future.
The infamous murder/suicide which took place in the mansion occurs near the end of the play, with a drunken and drugged-out Greg confronting Sean with the fact he believes Abby really loves him and refuses to believe she loves Sean for anything other than his money. But before anything is worked out, gunfire erupts and the two men lay dead on the floor. How can the MacAlister clan survive such heartbreak and sorrow? Barely, it seems, at the conclusion of the play as everyone mourns the loss of MacAlister’s beloved son. It’s a tale so unbelievable that if it hadn’t actually happened, Hollywood (and playwright Kathrine Bates) could not have invented it.
With so few tickets remaining, please order yours ASAP to guarantee your seat at this extraordinary event!