Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents for its eighteenth season, the return engagement of Katherine Bates’ THE MANOR, a play that speaks of a rise and tragic fall involving a very dignified family living in one of the nation’s prestigious communities.
The story begins in the roaring 20’s, where liquor flowed if one will find it, jazz music was all the rage, and fortunes were climbing at sky high paces. The MacAlister family that made its capital gains in mineral mining as headed by Charles MacAlister (Darby Hinton, alternating with Mark Rimer), is celebrating the wedding between his son and heir Sean (Eric Keitel) and the blushing bride Abby (Nathalie Rudolph). As the two are joined in marriage, Charles meets up with his friend based in Washington DC, Senator Alfred Winston (Daniel Leslie) on a business opportunity. It appears that in the US territory of Hawaii, the Navy desires to build a naval base station within the location known as Pearl Harbor. Alfred asks Charles for a $100,000 loan to finance this development. In return for the requested amount, Alfred would receive exclusive rights to mine a valued mineral deposit that Charles operates. This well intended exchange opens in what later becomes a scandal developing into government bribery, business corruption, and an overall disgrace to this wealthy family estate leading up toward dire consequences. This aftermath not only involves Charles, but to the others within this domain set high among their “quaint” 50+ room estate overlooking the bedroom community village called Beverly Hills.
This original play written by Katherine Bates and directed by Martin Thompson (based on original stage direction by Beverly Olevin) was inspired upon the actual family of Edward Doheny, who made his fortune in oil production. He was involved with tactics that later led to a bribery misconduct known as the “Teapot Dome Scandal” that followed upon the breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly in the early part of the 20th century. What makes this play rather unique, outside of the fact that the plot is inspired by actual events that involves greed, corruption, family disgrace, and even death, but the settings takes place at Greystone Mansion, a 46,000 Sq. Ft. building and estate once owned by the Donehy family. Many of the play’s backdrops are founded in what did occur within the mansion when Edward “Ned” Doheny, son of Edward Sr., took his own life with a pistol. (The reasons leading up to this death vary, but it was indeed billed as a murder-suicide!) The play itself offers plenty of drama as depicted by the cast members that also include Carol Potter as Marion MacAlister, Kristin Towers-Rowles as Henrietta Haversham Pugh, Melanie MacQueen as Cora Wilson, Martin Thompson, alternating with Daniel Leslie, as family attorney Frank Parsons, Esq. with David Hunt Stafford as James the butler, Katherine Henryk as Ursula the housekeeper, and Ester Levy Richman as Ellie, the mute maid.
As to how this play is set up. It takes place within a handful of rooms in the mansion where the audience is broken up into three groups. After the first scene is performed, each group is led by one of the domestic staff into another nearby room where a second scene is presented. Then the groups, rotating to other rooms, witness yet another unfolding scene. These scenes performed for the selected audience groups are presented in a different order, but not out of context as each scene keeps its continuity in check. The background of the mansion itself serves as the backdrop giving this production an authentic feel. Each room offers limited stage furnishings as the original furniture and other decor has long been removed. David Hunt Stafford & Jackie Petras provides the set design that is part of the play, rather than to the actual building where this showpiece is housed.
THE MANOR has been part of Theatre 40’s repertory since 2002, offering limited run performances at the location where many of the inspired stage settings developed. If one attends this performance, one will see just a small glimpse of a humble home built when elegance, even at an excess, was at its peak. They don’t build places like these anymore, and it’s just as well! Along with viewing the homestead and the grounds, one will witness a great play that’s fully loaded with all the drama that such a stage work firmly allows.