About a year ago, a young woman and a young man met and fell in love. Pretty soon they were married. When the young woman inherited an immense old manor house, they decided to turn it into the ‘Monkwell Manor’ Guesthouse and run it themselves. A well-placed newspaper ad quickly brought them the necessary guests for their opening weekend, and a howling blizzard brought enough unexpected snow to keep owners and guests trapped inside the manor house for the duration.
Director Jackson Gay has assembled a cast of characters that flesh out this tale perfectly at Hartford Stage.
Sam Morales is beautifully empathetic as Mollie Ralston, and Tobias Segal is her ambitious and hard-working husband Giles Ralston. They are the two proprietors of the guesthouse and welcome each of the guests, including Christopher Geary as the young architect-to-be Christopher Wren, Yvette Ganier as the insufferable and persnickety Mrs. Boyle, and Greg Stuhr as the mature and disciplined Major Metcalf.
These two may have arrived in the same taxi (from the station) that got stuck in the snow at the bottom of the hill, so they had to slog up through the snow all the way to the front entrance, where, as Mrs. Boyle is quick to point out, they were not met by uniformed staff who could retrieve their luggage and escort them to their rooms.
The next guest to arrive is Ali Skamangas as Miss Caswell, a woman who has lived abroad and has no real address other than her passport. She would complete the expected guests, but another knock on the door introduces Jason O’Connell as the rotund Mr. Paravicini, who explains that his Rolls-Royce has become stuck in the snow and that he saw lights that invited him to inquire if he could find a room. And in fact, he can. He has no luggage except for a small briefcase but assures Mr. Ralston that he will be quite fine with that.
By this point in the story what does the audience know? We know there’s been a murder reported somewhere not far away because that was playing on the radio when Mrs. Ralston entered the room to start the show. We’ve seen her hide a small parcel in the drawer of a table. A few minutes later we’ve watched Mr. Ralston hide a larger parcel in a chest. We’ve listened as guests introduced themselves and noticed their unique costumes [Thank you Fabian Fidel Aguilar!] and backgrounds. We know, for instance, that Christopher Wren is wild about four-poster beds and that he enjoys and wants to help with the cooking. We know that Mrs. Buloe has an immense reddish mink-like stole and that she loves to make snide observations about how poorly this Guesthouse is managed, and that no one likes her. We know that Mr. Paravicini is something of a mystery. And because we’ve seen the snow falling rapidly outside the tall windows that are the background of the elegant thrust set [Thank you Riw Rakkulchon!] we know that pretty much no one is leaving soon.
The anxiety mounts when a phone call from Brendon Dalton as Detective Sergeant Trotter informs Mrs. Ralston that he has been ordered by Scotland Yard to reach the Guesthouse and provide protection to the guests. He manages to get through the snow on a pair of cross-country skis, and immediately begins to question folks about their backgrounds, clarifying how much we do know and do not know about each of them.
It’s unnecessary, in a review, to tell more of the plot of this famous play, and unethical to spell out the ending. But it’s not unethical to encourage you to go and see this beautiful production with a superb set, wonderful costumes, and excellent direction, and I certainly do.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 860-525-5151 or on the web at www.hartfordstage.org