“Ravenscroft”: A near-mystery

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"Ravenscroft" at the Bickford Theatre. Photo by Warren Westura

Billed as a comedy/mystery, Ravenscroft, written by the prolific playwright Don Nigro, is the winter production of the Bickford Theatre in Morristown. The play comes from that family of mysteries, set in English country manors at the start of the 20th century, in which someone may or may not have been murdered, everyone is covering up for everyone else, and a no-nonsense police detective has to discover the truth hidden within the lies.

What makes this play stand out is the playwright’s attempts to inject the mystery with humor described as being Monty Python-esque. The result, at least in this production, is a play that is neither mysterious nor hilarious. Although there are a number of one-off lines that evoke laughter from the audience, and some funny scenes in the second act, the whole thing never quite makes for a satisfying whole.

The story revolves around a police inspector sent to investigate a death at Ravenscroft Manor. He questions the five women of the house: a dizzy grande dame; her possibly mad daughter; the daughter’s Viennese governess; the practical-minded cook; and the hysterical housemaid. All of the women are trying to protect each other while hiding secrets of their own. The busy weaving of their separate webs of lies only frustrates the inspector, who wheedles, threatens, cajoles, demands, pleads for, and finally bellows his desire for anyone to tell him the truth.

It is hard for me to figure out why this evening at the theatre wasn’t a better experience. Playwright Nigro, although creating some 400 plays which have been produced at theatres and schools around the world, might with this play have written a near-miss, although a screen adaptation of Ravenscroft gained a cult following.

Director Eric Hafen, who is also the producing artistic director at the Bickford Theatre, and his cast of six made a game try at bringing life to the characters — some of whom hinted at having intriguing facets that were not more explored by the author. However, both director and actors were unable to make the play gel into a more-entertaining production. As for the creative team, their work was satisfactory but uninspired.

At the end of a play, one is used to seeing most of the audience rise to its feet during the curtain calls. This, however, was one of the very few plays I’ve attended where the audience, while applauding the cast, did not stand. While I look forward to future productions at the Bickford Theatre, I cannot recommend going to see this current production of Ravenscroft.

Ravenscroft is presented by the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morristown through February 12th. For the performance schedule, tickets, and other information, visit www.morrismuseum.org.