By Michael Buzzelli
Halloween may be over but it’s still spooky season. Just ask the cast of “The Haunting of Hill House,” a theatrical retelling of Shirley Jackson’s supernatural thriller.
Dr. Montague (Eric Rummel) invites a group of guests to join him at an eerie mansion located in the woods (the closest city, state, county, or province, for that matter, is irrelevant).
Eleanor Vance (Erika Krenn) is the first to arrive. She’s greeted – greeted isn’t the right word, more like tolerated – by Mrs. Dudley(Kat Bowman).
Side note: When Shirley Jackson’s novel debuted in 1959, I doubt they knew what OCD was, but Mrs. Dudley has a chronic case. The character only has a few lines – all of them personal rules – and repeats them ad infinitum throughout the play.
Theodora (Taylor Javens) is the next guest to show up at the haunted house. She’s a coquettish vixen straight out a 50s B Movie.
Soon after, Dr. Montague and Luke (AJ Gross) drop their suitcases at the door and meet the ladies.
That night, Eleanor hears strange noises coming from the walls of the house. Theodora joins her in her room and the women hold each other tight through the terrors of the night until the men reappear. They didn’t hear the haunting noises but had their own strange encounter with an animal in the woods.
Things get spookier.
Mrs. Montague (Stephanie Swift) and Arthur (AJ Wittman) appear a few days later. They are excited to begin their paranormal investigation. Though Mr. & Mrs. Montague are husband and wife, Arthur’s role in their relationship is undefined, but Mrs. Montague and Arthur, a boy’s school principal, seem to be closer than just friends.
Additional side note: In the book, Luke, Theo and Eleanor are all brothers and sisters. Here, they are not. It’s a good thing, too, because there’s oodles of sexual tension between them.
The relationships in Hill House seem very confused. Luke likes Eleanor. She thinks he’s too silly. There seems to be some simmering lesbian subtext between Eleanor and Theodora.
Meanwhile Montague and Luke always wander off together, leaving the women alone often.
Mrs. Montague spends all of her free time with Arthur and none of it with her husband. But Arthur is always talking about his boys at the school – accusing them of being soft and feminine (using the antiquated term milksop) and he’s always talking about toughening them up. There’s more subtext there, too.
None of the romantic relationships are explored because the guests of Hill House are too busy fending off their supernatural enemies.
There’s also a lot of humor in this gothic horror.
“The Haunting of Hill House” is not to be confused with the movie, “House on Haunted Hill,” wherein Vincent Price was terrorizing houseguests with plastic skeletons and vats of acid.
While the first act drags, because of a lot of unnecessary exposition about the owners of the house, things pick up steam as the psychic-powered potboiler bubbles along.
There are some stand out performances that make “The Haunting of Hill House” fun.
Krenn is marvelous as the mentally tormented Eleanor. In the third act, when Krenn’s Eleanor is wandering around Hill House, it’s hard not to shout from the audience, “Don’t go down that passageway! Don’t go through that door!”
Javens is excellent as well. She’s a hellcat. Theo gets some great lines and Javins nails the delivery with aplomb.
Javens and Krenn get the best scenes and they utilize them to the fullest potential.
Arthur is another fun character and Wittman plays him in a delightfully goofy manner.
There’s not a lot to the character of Luke, but Gross is charming and makes the most of him.
Kelsey Pollock Rhea’s costumes, especially Javin’s outfits, are perfect for this production.
If you’re in the mood for something spooky, consult your Ouija Board. The planchette might point to yes.
“The Haunting of Hill House” runs from November 3 to November 11 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here.