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THEATER | REVIEW

Mixing Gothic and Farce : Cast of intriguing characters keeps audience guessing in 'Ravenscroft.'

July 16, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Ravenscroft," at the Ventura Court Theatre, is a mystery offering a la Agatha Christie with a touch of Charlotte Bronte and a comic 1990s twist.

In Don Nigro's gothic murder mystery, police inspector Ruffing (Paul Eiding) has been called to the country estate of Mrs. Ravenscroft (Nicolette Chaffey), where a handsome young manservant, Patrick, has died after falling down the stairs. The question facing Ruffing is whether one of the five women living in the house pushed Patrick down the stairs, and if so, why?

At the center of his investigation is the unhappy governess, Marcy (Tawny Rene Hamilton), who has confessed to causing the accident. Hamilton is cool and distant, a rock holding steady in the center as the players around her grow increasingly crazy and as the facts of the case become less clear.

As the randy Mrs. Ravenscroft, Chaffey is charming and a little racy, nailing every joke. She manages throughout Act I to keep the inspector and the audience wondering: Is she terribly simple or wickedly sharp? Her daughter Gillian (Laura Otis) is psychologically conniving--or perhaps just unstable--wrapping the inspector in self-doubt and fantasy. The cook, Mrs. French (Lucy Lee Flippin), and the maid, Dolly (Kelie McIver), are respectively stoic and hysterical and shine in Act II.

Eiding has the challenge of playing off these serious and comic women, and he handles the task admirably. In fact, Nigro's play interweaves the witty and wicked, the gothic and farcical. Director Stan Roth paves a smooth path through the turns.

There are a few clunkers: some non sequiturs in the dialogue sound more 1995 than 1905, and awkward lighting cues between scenes. The simple music accents, however, work nicely to maintain the dark tone.

The set looks like something out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." The crooked stairs--the alleged murder weapon--sit ominously center stage and the black and gray palette of the stage seems awfully austere.

Don't try to guess the ending--it comes out of the blue. Still, the resolution is strangely satisfactory, returning to the opening theme of the malleable nature of truth.

BE THERE

"Ravenscroft" at Ventura Court Theater, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. $15. (818) 763-0245. Running time: two hours, 15 minutes.

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