Theater

THE MANOR

REVIEWED BY JOAN PINE

If you’ve ever driven around Beverly Hills, you’ve probably been on, or passed by Doheny Drive. Yes, there was a Mr. Doheny and he built Greystone Mansion, just above Sunset, a little west of Doheny. This was also the setting for Theatre 40’s fascinating play, The Manor. The audience was seated in the living room, and was being treated to the intriguing story of Edward Doheny, played with never ending charm by Darby Hinton, who offers us a glimpse into the life of this rags-to-riches tycoon and the two murders that took place in his house.

"Stones of Grey," intones James, the Valet, with the usual erudition by David Hunt Stafford, who is also the Artistic and Managing Director of Theatre 40. His next great line was, "the names have been changed to protect the guilty," and that got a big laugh! Anyway, I laughed. In the opening scene the cast stands still as statues while he introduces each participant in the story. Then they all come alive, moving, dancing and chattering among themselves.

Since this story takes place in the very house where the murders were committed, we are witnessing what may have happened in each room. The audience is divided into three groups and told to follow our leaders who escort us to the various rooms while other groups are also being escorted hither and yon. First, I went into a large room where Gregory Pugh (Michael Piscitelli) and Henrietta Havesham Pugh (Cynthia Gravinese) are fighting furiously with each other. It seems that they are man and "Oh, I got pregnant ... I mean, I thought I was pregnant," …wife!

Next, I was in the ‘study’ as I watched and listened to Doheny and the Senator, played by Dan Leslie, plotting their big, future plans. It seemed so ‘up close and personal,’ as if I was really in the study eavesdropping on these two brilliant men -- and I was!

I began to care about the players, especially Doheny and his new daughter-in-law, Abby, ably played by Nicole McCloud. There is a scene on Abby’s wedding night, in her bedroom, where she says, "I don’t want to die without having a man in my bed." Just when she and new husband, Sean, Charlie Jett, are about wrestle in the sheets, Mom, played by Katherine Bates, who is also the writer of this play, breaks it up. Beverly Olevin directed; actually, she directed six little plays, as each scene that we visit stands alone.

The play is really about Edward Doheny, the mistake he made out of greed and ambition and how this tragedy ultimately takes two lives and ruins his family. Yet, the true star here is Greystone Mansion itself, with 55 rooms sitting on 47,000 square feet of land, probably worth billions in this booming real estate market! Today, the grounds, and the house, having seen much better days, are a little shabby around the edges and need a new coat of interior paint, but it is still fighting to be remembered as the great house it once was in the l920s. It must have been magnificent, with the parties, wonderful dresses and rooms furnished with luxuries. Ah, so what if my invitation arrived 88 years later, I’m glad that I was finally invited, and I went!

You, too, can enjoy a splendid afternoon at Greystone Mansion. The directions are simple, take Doheny Drive north to Sunset, west to Loma Vista, north again, and you’ll be there. The play starts at 1:00 in the afternoon, so get there early, bring your camera and stroll around. There will be performances on January 26 and 27; February 2, 3, 9, 10, and 23; March 1 and 2; May 1, 2, 22 and 23; and June 5, 6, 12 and 13. Please call soon for reservations at 310-364-0535, as many of the performances are sold out.

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