The Manor, a site-specific performance now in its 17th year, is written by Kathrine Bates and based on true events centered around the oil-rich Doheny Family. It takes us inside Beverly Hills’s exquisite Greystone mansion, and it’s designed to be performed at this unique and specific location, with its hallways and various rooms which the audience visit, rather than a theater with standard seating and a single stage. What makes this production so intriguing is that the story is set in the very same mansion where the actual events took place 89 years ago.
The Manor takes us inside the lives of the MacAlister family. From the top of the show, we experience the celebration of Sean MacAlister and Abby Parsons’s wedding (Eric Keitel, Annalee Scott). The bride is the daughter of Frank Parsons (Martin Thompson), legal consultant to MacAlister’s father (Darby Hinton). Although this marriage is an exciting event to celebrate, we soon are met with a reason to feel more worried than festive. Secrets unravel and mayhem ensues in this mystery-infused soap opera. The show spans the course of 10 years — Act I being set in the 1920s and Act II being set in the 1930s.
One of the strongest aspects of the show is the interaction between the audience members and the performers. For instance, Ursula (Katherine Henryk), the MacAlister’s housekeeper, often walks the audience around the house while dishing information on family members and close friends of the family — such as the apparently very drunken and damaged Gregory Pugh (Mikel Parraga-Wills).
With its interactive aspect, The Manor is very similar in intent to Moving Arts’s 2015 production of Car Plays, in which two audience members, as back-seat passengers, witnessed various ten-minute inter-personal dramas played out by the actors who portrayed the driver and front-seat passenger – before the audience-duo was guided to the next parked car, and the next drama.
Although traipsing around a mansion might be seen as a drawback to some, I enjoyed the interactive experience that brought the story almost into my lap, thereby creating an even stronger illusion of authenticity in the capturing of events of decades ago.
The intimacy of each scene captures and enthralls, until another exciting moment comes, perhaps at a different location. The set designers and dressers, David Hunt Stafford and Jackie Petras, dress each locale with period accuracy.
Some scenes are simpler and do not require any design-elaboration because the mansion itself provides it, as with the scenes set on the grand staircase and in the library.
The director, Martin Thompson, makes sure the acting in every scene is completely fleshed out and staged well. (Thompson also portrays Frank Parsons.) The ensemble’s commitment is striking. One performance that stood out for me was that of Daniel Lench who portrays the butler, in a performance so persuasive, he initially had me fooled into thinking that he was working the show as an employee of the Greystone Mansion.