Curtain Call’s The Haunting of Hill House and Raven’s Arsenic & Old Lace (Aired: September 25, 2019)

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 September 28th while Healdsburg’s Raven Players present the serial-killing comedy Arsenic and Old Lace through September 29th.

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 and its that version that is being presented.

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.

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ runs through September 28th at the Russian River Hall in Monte Rio. The Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8pm.

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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.

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 on Braodway) 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.

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ runs Friday through Sun through September 29 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

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