The Granite Theatre officially welcomed audiences back for live stage performances last Friday with an engaging opening-night performance of "The Haunting of Hill House," a "horror drama" based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 gothic ghost novel of the same name.
Often hailed as "a perfect work of unnerving terror," the book and the play center around four people who meet at the ominous Victorian manse called Hill House, which, according to Jackson, "stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within," to conduct a paranormal investigation. Jackson, who describes Hill House as "not sane," and a house which "stood firm against itself," was also the author of another haunting tale, a short story that used to be required reading for American high school students: "The Lottery."
But back to the forbidding and sinister Hill House, which has long been avoided by everyone familiar with its reputation, except for the daily visits of its grumbling caretaker, Mrs. Dudley (Katherine Kimmel plays the robotic maid) and the four ghost-seekers.
The four gather at Hill House at the invitation of Dr. Montague (played by Ralph Stokes in his Granite debut), an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting." The other three include Eleanor Vance (played by Wylette Selvideo, also taking the Granite stage for the first time), a 32-year-old woman who, we learn, spent the previous 11 years caring for her late mother and, once, when she was a child, withstood a three-day event when showers of stones pelted the house she lived in with her mother and sister; Theodora, Stokes' assistant (Caitlin Robert in her return to the Granite after an 11 year break) and Luke Sanderson (Tristan Cole who is also making his Granite debut), the heir of Hill House. Montague, we learn, has been granted a short lease by the unknown owner of Hill House, but part of the arrangement includes the inclusion of Luke (who manages to get off some of the lighter lines in the play).
At first, their stay seems a little fruitless and ridiculous ... until strange things begin occur. Then along come Montague's wife (Irene Handren), and her friend Arthur Parker (George Sanchez, who was in the Granite's 2019 production of "Man of La Mancha" and who plays an excellent straight man), who give a whole new meaning to the phrase "ghost writing," and perhaps are responsible for encouraging the final fury of Hill House. Or are they?
Audiences will most likely wonder (if they can make it to the end without being frozen with fear) who exactly is behind the horror happening at Hill House. There is a reason the play is suitable for older audiences only.
John Cillino directs this spooky show which includes creaking doors, frightening noises, and ghostly figures in the aisles, with help from Dina Ferri, who serves as production manager. Linda Shea is stage manager.