‘Hill House’ brings spooky story to OCTA stage

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Shelly Stewart Banks/OCTA

Just perfect for Halloween, “The Haunting of Hill House” opens at Olathe Civic Theatre Association (OCTA) with the holiday theme welcoming guests at the door and with staff, ushers, concession attendants wearing Halloween costumes.

Even the lobby reflects the seasonal theme with spooky lighting and decorations setting the tone for a screaming good time. As guests enter the auditorium, they notice the lights are dim and reflect a more consistent feel with some of the stage lighting.

Shelly Stewart Banks/OCTA

What a great effect to aid the theme of the Shirley Jackson story that has experiences so many differing adaptations. First, a short story/novella, then a movie, later a stage play, and now a TV series. “The Haunting of Hill House” maintains a popularity with fans.

The play, like most gothic thrillers opens in a huge, abandoned house. This one, like others, comes with ghosts, hauntings, and a long, dark, history. Similar to Agatha Christie mysteries, Jackson’s play begins with the gathering of the four principal characters. In this case, they come to record the happenings inside the house, take notes, and clean the property of spiritual encounters.

Shelly Stewart Banks/OCTA

Audiences meet a young, innocent ingenue, Eleanor (Venus Leung), and the day housekeeper/cook, Mrs. Dudley (Victoria Hoffman). Soon after, Theodora, (Charlotte Gilman), a flashy, free-spirited woman with some psychic prowess enters. Soon after, Dr. Montague, (David Nickol) the host, and a young man (Jefferson Harwood) enter to complete the guest list.

The story starts slowly as the groundwork for paranormal events sets in motion. As night falls, things do go bump in the night. The haunting begins.

Shelly Stewart Banks/OCTA

Act II brings two additional characters and a spirit to help move the action. Mrs. Montague (Sally Schmucker) and her friend/recorder Arthur Parker (John Grow) channel an invisible spirit who speaks silently to Mrs. Montague. And, Act III brings the resolution, but it is what the audience expects?

The acting, like all OCTA shows makes the piece work. The set, the lighting, and the lobby all add to the overall effect. The story sticks true to the Shirley Jackson original. The problem is the play script. More like a screen play, the transitions are awkward and just not flowing like other plays. Still, the play entertains and will undoubtedly sell out many performances.

The characters have their eccentricities which makes them unique but they lack the depth and character changes that more popular plays possess. Heap credit on this cast of actors who wring every once of character in their performances.

Shelly Stewart Banks/OCTA

Leung plays the innocent youngest guest with perfection. Gilman creates a bold character that exudes a life of excitement–and a past. Nickol is the doctor-type that just might have evil intentions in bringing this group together. Harwood plays a smart-aleck chess wizard who might possibly be a key to this mystery. Schmucker displays an eccentric medium whose psychic spirit-friend might add insight. Grow brings some comedy as an arrogant jock that’s obviously overly proud of himself. But, the favorite supporting cast member, Hoffman delivers a drop-dead funny maid/cook/housekeeper with a no-nonsense/dominant/flat delivery that terrifies the guests–but makes the audience laugh out loud. The actors represent a strong ensemble created by director, Derrick Freeman.

Shelly Stewart Banks/OCTA

The cast is: Venus Leung as Eleanor Vance, Charlotte Gilman as Theodora, David Nickol as Dr. Montague, Jefferson Harwood as Luke Sanderson, Sally Schmucker as Mrs. Montague, John Grow as Arthur Parker, Victoria Hoffman as Mrs. Dudley.

“The Haunting of Hill House” presents a family-friendly Halloween treat for audiences. The show is spooky, more so than scary. It’s a good choice for an evening out. The show with two intermissions runs about two and a half hours, so it may be too long for the under 10 crowd.

OlathOlathe Civic Theatre Association

The production team for “The Haunting of Hill House” is: Derrick Freeman, director; D.K. Evenson, stage manager; Chuck Cline, lighting director; Michael Bunn, sound design; Meghann Deveroux, costume designer; Kaylee Flory, properties designer; Richard J. Burt, set designer/consultant.

“The Haunting of Hill House” continues at OCTA through Nov. 10. More information on dates, times, prices, and tickets can be found on the OCTA website.

Tags: “The Haunting of Hill House” review, OCTA, Olathe Civic Theatre Association, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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