Ghosts. Mystery. Murder. The Ritz Theatre Company selected the perfect show for ushering in the fall season. This September they’re presenting the world premiere of The Ghosts of Ravenswood Manor. Bruce A. Curless directed this original work written by local playwright Kumar Dari. I attended the September 21st performance.
Like many aristocratic British families at the end of the nineteenth century, the Sappingtons’ profligacy resulted in financial trouble. In addition, Lord Sappington’s business partner swindled him shortly before his passing. In order to raise money his sons Edwin (played by John Jackowski) and Andrew (played by Craig Hutchings) contemplated selling the family estate, Ravenswood Manor. William’s widow, Lady Sappington (Ginna Higgins), planned on taking in lodgers to raise funds.
While this set-up made for a strong conflict, the playwright added a twist that complicated everyone’s plans: Lady Sappington revealed that a series of unexplained events occurred at Ravenswood Manor. She found paintings askew. The sound of mysterious footsteps echoed through the halls. Butler Rugggles (John Hager) discovered an expensive vase off its shelf and lying in the middle of the room. Lady Sappington surmised that ghosts haunted the manor.
To free the home of these spectral visitors, she contacted spiritualist Dr. Karmazin (Joe Carlucci). After surveying Ravenswood Manor, the latter recommended he perform a conjuring ceremony. An unexpected but inevitable result transpired.
While set in 1890 in Victorian England, Mr. Dari added contemporary themes to the show. I found it clever how the playwright drew parallels to the modern era. Andrew battled opium addiction. Edwin and Major Botwright (played by Andrew B Kushner) engaged in debates about the racial issues of the day. Lady Blackthorne (Jack Shaw) was really a transgender English lord.
One wouldn’t expect a ghost story set in Victorian society to serve as the background for a comedy. Once again, Mr. Dari showed exceptional creativity. Major Botwright (Andrew B. Kushner) had a fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan. He enjoyed transforming expressions into a jingle that would fit one of their shows. One of the catchier was:
Tuck, tuck, tuck
Into the duck, duck, duck.
While no choreographer was listed in the playbill, the major’s “Ring, Ring, Ring for Ruggles” cadence, inspired the ensemble to perform a nineteenth century version of the Macarena.
Following the performance, the playwright and the cast participated in a talk back with the audience. Your correspondent asked Mr. Kumar what inspired him to write this story.
The playwright explained that he had ideas for a number of characters. During a process that took him three years, he refined them and decided to set the play in Victorian England.
The cast did an exceptional job of bringing Mr. Kumar’s unusual characters to life.
The randy Lady Blackthorne possessed a particular fondness for double entendres. Jack Shaw’s effeminate delivery when expressing them made these ribald references even wittier.
Of all the roles in the show, Lady Sappington was the closest to ‘normal.’ Ginna Higgins played an excellent serious character when working opposite Mr. Shaw’s comic one.
Joe Carlucci brought exceptional energy to the role of Dr. Karmazin. He danced about the stage with divining rods. The performer also spoke in a thick Balkan accent, but still expressed his lines so I could understand them clearly.
Andrew B Kushner played a wonderful Major Botwright. The walrus mustache made his transformation into the character even more believable. I also liked the pompous voice he used to tell the major’s myriad stories of personal grandeur.
John Jackowski and Craig Hutchings played the spoiled Sappington brothers. With their characters’ fondness for alcohol, one hopes they don’t strain their elbows. It’s difficult to hold a glass for 2-1/2 solid hours.
Amanda Lynch Lizzio performed the role of Zenobia Sappington. Ms. Lizzio captured the bubbly and garrulous nature of her character very well.
John Hager added his unique brand of comic genius to the role of Ruggles, the butler. One has to credit him for keeping his torso at a 35 degree angle to the floor all evening. In addition to his professional interpretation of Mr. Dari’s script, Mr. Hager supplemented his performance with his gift for improvisation.
During the intermission I encountered Mr. Hager in the theatre. While remaining in Ruggles’ poor posture, he asked me, “Are you laughing at my pain?”
I’m sure I felt a lot more pain that Mr. Hager did. My side still ached from laughing at his performance during the first act.
Director Bruce A. Curless pulled a Hitchcock. His cameo came in the form of Lord Sappington. As with every other time Mr. Curless has taken the stage, he made his presence memorable. Without giving readers spoilers, he delivered the most haunting performance I’ve ever seen from him.
The production crew included: Technical Director Dan Rogers, Stage Manager Alexis Snyder, Assistant Stage Managers Alyssa Sendler and Gabriel Slimm, Light Designer Jennifer Donsky, Sound Designer Matthew Gallagher and Sound Board Operators Natasha Swann and Anastasia Swann.
Prior to the curtain rising, Production Manager Matthew Weil informed the audience that this run is the “world premiere” of The Ghosts of Ravenswood Manor. I enjoyed the opportunity to attend. As Mr. Weil noted, “How often do you have the opportunity to see a ‘world premiere’?” While that gives theatre aficionados a strong reason to experience the production, the entertaining nature of the show serves as an even better motivation to see it.
Don’t become haunted by the specter of missing The Ghosts of Ravenswood Manor. It runs through September 29th at the Ritz Theatre.