Those who notice that theatres are haunted by ghosts of performances past will find even more potent spectral manifestations here. Kathrine Bates sets her historical melodrama in situ, at Beverly Hills' real-life Greystone Mansion. The names have been changed: The famed Doheny family (Doheny Library, Doheny Drive) is here the MacAlisters, the oil industry that bought the prime acreage is here gold. But the family and friends so vibrant in the 1920s are now mere memories, brought into our world—or we into theirs—by the servants who remember them fondly.
We meet the family immediately following the wedding of young Sean MacAlister (Mark Bradford Hill), son of patriarch Charles (Darby Hinton) and his gracious wife (Bates), to the dewy Abby (Nanette Hennig), daughter of Charles' attorney and confidant (Michael Bonnabel). But Abby still harbors feelings for the brooding young handyman (Seamus Dever), married to a brassy music hall doll (Cynthia Gravinese). Guests of honor are a senator (Dan Leslie) and his wife (Gloria Stroock); he soon embroils Charles in what history later calls the Teapot Dome scandal. But our hosts are a dignified valet (John Houlton), a Russian housekeeper (Nina Borisoff), and a mute maid (Esther Richman).
As we follow the characters through the house, we feel the chill hand of bygone days and bygone wealth. We also feel, thanks to director Beverly Olevin, like looky-loos on a rampage through the finest piece of Westside real estate. Olevin creates a nearly overwhelming sense of intimacy; despite the cavernous home with its innumerable rooms, we are eavesdroppers on the most secretive discussions. We progress among the simultaneous conversations as we are invited into various rooms: an ornately vaulted ballroom, a marble-floored antechamber, a girlish bedroom, a massive staircase.
Olevin is aided by the daring actors, who know no fourth walls here. She and Bates cleverly divide the scenes among various pairs of characters in a way that ensures each scene will bring groups of us in and out of rooms at the same time. But the production could not have been possible without the many unseen hands that between scenes quickly, quietly, and seamlessly reset props, furniture, and the audience's seats. It's delightful to arrive early, stay late, wander the multilevel acres of beckoning grounds, and perhaps sense a member of the family returned to recall the heydays.
"The Manor," presented by Theatre 40 at Greystone Manor, 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills. Sun. 1 p.m. Mar. 2-Apr. 6. $25. (310) 550-4796.