Reviews: “The Haunting of Hill House” in Monte Rio & “Arsenic and Old Lace” in Healdsburg

Halloween comes early to North Bay stages with two productions more commonly seen around that particular holiday. Monte Rio’s Curtain Call Theatre recreates The Haunting of Hill House through Sep. 28 while Healdsburg’s Raven Players present the serial-killing comedy Arsenic and Old Lace through Sep. 29.

Shirley Jackson’s 1958 novel The Haunting of Hill House is considered by many (including Steven King) to be one of the finest horror novels ever written. Adapted for film twice (and currently a Netflix series), F. Andrew Leslie adapted it for the stage in 1964.

Paranormal Activity Investigators examine “The Haunting of Hill House”

Curtain Call’s previous genre production (Dracula) was undone by a leaden script. This time, it’s uneven performances that are problematic. Casting is often a challenge for smaller community theatres and this West County troupe is no exception. Where they excel is with scenic design. They somehow manage to get really interesting sets onto their tiny hall stage and can also be counted on to have some effective technical elements. Here, they do a good job in creating an atmosphere of fear and suspense through lighting, sound and special effects.

It’s an earnest production good for at least a shiver or two.

Rating (out of 5): ★★½

The Haunting of Hill House’ runs through Sep. 28 at the Russian River Hall, 20347 Hwy. 116, Monte Rio. Fri-Sat, 8pm. $15–$50. 707.524.8739.

Photos by Lorri Levy-Comer

Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring’s tale of the Brewster sisters and their proclivity for poisoning lonely, old gentlemen, has been an audience-pleaser for over 75 years. The popular 1944 film adaptation directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant as nephew Mortimer Brewster contains what most film aficionados (and Grant himself) consider the debonair star’s worst performance.

Unfortunately, it’s that performance on which Michael Hunter appears to have based his interpretation of the role. The eye-popping, face mugging approach to the character didn’t work on film, and it doesn’t work on stage.

Abby (Rebecca Allington), Teddy (Michael Romero), and Martha Brewster (Priscilla Locke)

Other performances in this Joe Gellura-directed production do work, including Rebecca Allington and Priscilla Locke as Abby and Martha Brewster, Sophia Ferar as Mortimer’s girlfriend/fiancé, and Eric Yanez as a play-writing cop on the beat. Steve Cannon is actually a touch Karloff-ian as murderous brother Jonathan Brewster (Boris Karloff originated the role) and the reliable Robert Bauer is amusing as Jonathan’s sidekick Dr. Einstein. Michael Romero is a bit young as Teddy, but his appearances bring much-needed energy to the proceedings.

With dated references and its raison d’être (Karloff) long gone, Arsenic is starting to feel old.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ runs Fri–Sun through Sep. 29 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Fri –Sat, 8pm; Sun., 2pm. $10–$35. 707.433.6335.

Photos by Ray Mabry

These reviews appeared in edited versions in the North Bay Bohemian.

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