By Bonnie Goldberg

Not since the Brewster sisters of Brooklyn, New York, Martha and Abby, favored all their elderly male boarders with poisoned elderberry wine, has there been a pair of sisters with such a macabre hobby until the Blackwoods, Constance and Mary Katherine.  The Blackwoods are inviting you into the parlor of their elegant home in Bennington, Vermont, behind their iron gated fortress, in the year of our Lord 1958, for the world premiere engagement of the new musical of Shirley Jackson’s haunting book “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”

This production, with book and lyrics by Adam Bock and music and lyrics by Todd Almond, with direction by Anne Kauffman, is the stirring season opener for the Yale Repertory Theatre until Saturday, October 9. David Zinn's astonishing set lends itself to the drama.

Constance Blackwood and her younger sister Mary Katherine, affectionately known as Merricat, have been virtually isolated in their large home that overshadows the lives and residences of the “peasants” who exist below in the village.  A tragic incident that occurred six years earlier has turned Constance into a recluse and turned the minds of the villagers against the Blackwoods.

When Merricat ventures out, to purchase groceries or borrow a library book, she is taunted by the children and adults she meets. Constance prefers to putter in her gardens and prepare delightful meals for her disabled Uncle Julian (Bill Buell) who was fortunate to survive the family tragedy and provides the comedic flourishes in the tale.  Helen Clarke (Beth McVey) and Lucille Wright (Joy Franz) are the only villagers brave enough to visit the Blackwoods, enjoy tea and cookies, and live to tell the story.

Jenn Gambatese as Constance and Alexandra Socha as Merricat are wonderfully vivid as the devoted siblings who support each other as fear and wickedness swirl under their feet.  The music provides a haunting refrain to the drama and mystery that abound.

The unexpected arrival of Cousin Charles (Sean Palmer) changes the family dynamics, a fact that pleases one sister tremendously and causes the other to devise tricks and trouble.

For tickets ($10-85), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or go online to www.yalerep.org.  Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and will take place at the University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven.

Part fairy tale, part ghost story, part murder mystery, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” will intrigue as it is told by the young Merricat who sets all the dominoes in motion.


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