By John Lyle Belden
One of the more fascinating theatre experiences in Indy is the unique productions by Candlelight Theatre, taking place in the rooms of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. The Indianapolis home of Benjamin and Caroline Harrison has been restored and preserved with furnishings, art and accessories of the Harrisons, or of the period (late 1800s), so with seating for approximately 20 persons at a time we get an intimate immersive experience of a bygone era.
Thus we gain a new perspective on old stories, such as the spooky scenes of Candlelight’s spring production, “Classic Murder.” Guided to three different rooms of the historic house, we see Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” adapted by Candlelight’s resident playwright James Trofatter; “In Memoriam,” inspired by a popular Agatha Christie story, adapted by Marlene Remington; and “The Summer People,” by Shirley Jackson, adapted by Brainerd Duffield. Direction by Jill Whelan and Mavis Washington.
In the Sitting Room, we meet Ethan (Drew Carlson), concerned friend of Roderick Usher (Ken Eder). The servant, Miss Gray (Jill Whelan), is taking the dreary atmosphere in stride, even though Roderick’s dear sister, Madeline (Erin Fralick) looks like a living wraith. Madness is closing in on Usher, and could take everything and everyone with it! Even those familiar with the Poe tale can get a chill from the up-close view of this tragedy.
In the Back Parlor, five guests – played by Donna Wing, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Hazel Gillaspy, Ellis Hall, and Stephen Moore – arrive at a mysterious isolated house. A letter alerts them that there is a purpose behind their assembly: vengeance from beyond the grave! Complete with all the twists and humor one expects from a Christie mystery, “In Memoriam” could also surprise you with the who, the how, and the why.
Many of us have read Jackson’s “The Lottery” (I did in high school), so note its tense atmosphere with the potential of ordinary people doing extraordinarily macabre things also permeates “The Summer People.” When “city” couple Janet and Robert (Ann Richards and Steve Viehweg) decide to stay in their New England summer rental past Labor Day, the townies who had served their every need all summer (Coleen Kubit and James Hayes) don’t take the news well. In some places, change of season means more than just the calendar.
One weekend remains of “Classic Murder,” Friday and Saturday, April 28-29, at 1230 N. Delaware St., downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets (as well as info on tours and other programs of the Harrison home), visit bphsite.org (click on “Visit” to bring up the menu for Candlelight Theatre).