Review: The Fall of the House of Usher (The Hypocrites)

| August 20, 2012
Tien Doman, Halena Kays and Christine Stulik, in The Hypocrites' "The Fall of the House of Usher", directed and adapted by Sean Graney. (photo credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis)        
       
The Fall of the
      House of Usher
 

Written by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted and Directed by Sean Graney 
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
thru Sept 23   |  tickets: $28   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     


     
       

Innovative casting, haunting design make for mostly compelling production 

     

Tien Doman and Christine Stulik, in The Hypocrites' "The Fall of the House of Usher", directed and adapted by Sean Graney. (photo credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis)

    
The Hypocrites Theatre Company presents
    
The Fall of the House of Usher

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Edgar Allan Poe may get top billing over Sean Graney in The Hypocrites’ production of The Fall of the House of Usher, but make no mistake – this version of the classic horror story is far more Graney’s than Poe’s. As both director and adaptor of Poe’s macabre tale of family evil left unchecked, Graney replaces the original’s tone of extreme terror and predominant wonder with one of melodrama played so broadly it teeters into camp and farce. As for Poe’s narrative – a complex mix of psychological and physical horrors that culminate in one of western literature’s great, gothic scenes of utter ruin – it becomes fuddled amid the creepshow antics of the Hypocrites three-person ensemble.

Christine Stulik and Halena Kays, in The Hypocrites' "The Fall of the House of Usher", directed and adapted by Sean Graney. (photo credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis)None of which should discredit from the show’s deliciously decrepit, coffin-like set, lush period costuming, haunting sound design and innovative casting. The production values are top-tier and make watching The Fall of the House of Usher compelling, even when the narrative falters and the comedic shenanigans become annoying. Such shenanigans have no place in a story that ominously illustrates an “intolerable agitation of the soul” in a house that is sentient in its oppressive monstrousness. In going down the yukfest route, Graney leaches The Fall of the House of Usher of all it’s terrifying potential and, thus, it’s very reason for being.

Still, there are aspects to admire in Graney’s production. Chief among them: The members of that impressively cohesive ensemble, all of whom alternate roles throughout. There are four parts here – Roderick Usher, afflicted master of the titular manse; his unnamed “best loved” friend who arrives at his request to provide comfort as Usher undergoes the throes of some unnamed affliction of body and mind; Usher’s maid and finally, his spooky wraith of a sister, the Lady Madeline.

All three cast members (Halena Kays, Tien Doman, and Christine Stulik) play all four roles, deftly getting in and out of velvet top hats and mutton chip sideburns and into elaborately constructed wigs of Victorian sausage curls or flouncy maid’s outfits and ghostly peignoirs as the part demands. The quick changes smack a bit of gimmickry to be sure, but it is nonetheless impressive the way the cast fluidly moves in and out of personas. The pace of the switcheroos seems to accelerate as the 70-minute piece wends on with one actor exiting as Usher only to have the character immediately return played by another actor. Sadly, Graney takes it bit too far: The production veers into grating silliness in a scene when Usher’s companion repeatedly runs screaming off one side of the stage and returns – a split second later – from the other.

Also inappropriately silly: These characters are defined largely by exaggerated tics – the companion seems to suffer from the vapours, the maid waddles about as she speaks in a caricature of a Highland accent, Madeleine carries herself with the grace and glide of a ghostly parade float. Compounding the troubles here is Graney’s adaptation, which doesn’t provide a clear narrative or a sense of the psychological underpinnings that drive it. Instead of tormented souls, the denizens of the House of Usher seem like buffoonish hypochondriacs. And the final denouement seems to pop up out of nowhere, as if everyone abruptly decided to enact a scene from “The Shining.”

The Hypocrites' "The Fall of the House of Usher", directed and adapted by Sean Graney, runs through September 23rd at Chopin Theatre. (photo credit: Maggie Fullilove-Nugent)

Still, there’s no taking away from the production values. Alison Siple’s costumes are a marvel of opulent decay while Rick Sims’ sound design is delightfully eerie. Joey Wade’s low-ceilinged set provides a claustrophobic, buried alive sensibility to the proceedings and allows for a rather impressive fall of the House of Usher during the final scene.

If only The Hypocrites hadn’t tried to make the whole thing funny. By having the actors alternate between parts, Graney’s concept is rich in potential for exploring the fractured psyches that provide the mordant foundation Poe’s story. As it is, that potential is buried under a not-very-scary sensibility of camp.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

The Fall of the House of Usher continues thru September 23rd at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map), with performances Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $28, and are available online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at The-Hypocrites.com(Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission)

Tien Doman, Halena Kays and Christine Stulik, in The Hypocrites' "The Fall of the House of Usher", directed and adapted by Sean Graney. (photo credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis)

Photos by Matthew Gregory Hollis


     

artists

cast

Halena Kays*, Tien Doman*, Christine Stulik 

behind the scenes

Sean Graney* (director, adaptor); Alison Siple* (costumes); Rick Sims (sound design, original music); Joey Wade (set design); Mieka van der Ploeg (wig design); Jared Moore (lighting); Maria DeFabo* (props); Justine Palmisano* (stage manager); Miranda Anderson* (production manager); Michael Smallwood* (tech director); Brigid Danahy, Nicole Kutcher (asst. stage managers); Maggie Fullilove-Nugent, Matthew Gregory Hollis (photos)

* denotes Hypocrites ensemble member

Tien Doman, in The Hypocrites' "The Fall of the House of Usher", directed and adapted by Sean Graney. (photo credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis)

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Category: 2012 Reviews, Adaptation, Catey Sullivan, Chopin Theatre, Hypocrites Theatre, New Work, World Premier

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