We Have Always Lived in the Castle
By Roz Friedman
Opening the season, a new musical at the Yale Rep can shiver your timbers. It is based on a scary 1962 Shirley Jackson novel called We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It bears some resemblance to Grey Gardens and The Bad Seed. Who remembers that play by Maxwell Anderson based on the William March novel? It was also a film. However, Castle has its own identity. It concerns the wealthy Blackwood family, and their death by poison of many of them at a dinner party in the castle. (The message here---Don’t eat the sugared berries!!)
The Book and Lyrics are by Adam Bock; the organic and atonal Music & Lyrics by Todd Almond, who is also the co –orchestrator with Dan Lipton. Bock wrote a super play called The Receptionist . That was laced with mystery, as is this musical. The haunting score, consisting of about 15 numbers that run through the two-hours, is quite operatic.
This production, directed by Anne Kauffman, is lavish. Twenty musicians high atop an awesome two level set, designed by David Zinn and lit darkly by Stephen Strawbridge, accompany 4 superb principal players: it is impossible to take your eyes off Alexandra Socha as young Mary Katherine; nicknamed, affectionately, Mericat, she is a mass of secrets, always hiding things on the extensive property and demanding that everything be in their place.
Jenn Gambatese is Constance, Mericat’s older sister, who takes care of everything, particularly the flowers which decorate the stage, and everyone. Constance was accused, but acquitted, of murdering her relatives, and since then can’t leave home. Gambatese just won the top award from our Ct. Critics for her spitfire Annie Oakley at Goodspeed; we can hardly recognize her here in her blond tresses-but her voice is still strong and her smile sweet. Bill Buell gives a good grainy performance as Uncle Julian who survived the poison, yet is relegated to a wheel chair, and may be a bit unbalanced. Lastly, there is charming Sean Palmer as cousin, Charles, who invades the castle, tries to woo Constance, and is up to no good.
A fine supporting cast fleshes out the plot. There are the friends of the Blackwoods, who come to visit and the townspeople who hate them. This latter is based on Shirley Jackson’s relationship to the inhabitants of Bennington, Vermont, the town where she lived and where she raised her children. Although she was greatly successful as a writer, they thought her eccentric, an outsider, as are the Blackwoods here.
The final scenes, which I cannot reveal, are compelling, although we do discover who the killer is. We Have Always Lived in the Castle- challenging on many levels. At the Yale Rep. through October 9