Traveling theatre delivers powerful suspense

Gypsy Theatre Company’s production of “Ravenscroft” provides a delectable evening of entertainment from the ominous pre-show music through the suspenseful final blackout. The play is a clever concoction of humor, confusion and intrigue. To speak of the plot of a British murder mystery is to do the reader a disservice—all you need to know plot-wise is that the action, set in 1905 England, revolves around Inspector Ruffing who questions the five women of Ravenscroft Manor in his investigation of a recent death. Ruffing is unwittingly embroiled in their lives as they lead him through a puzzling web in his search for the truth.
While the story itself is gripping and had me thinking a ten-minute intermission was too long to wait for what the second act would reveal, it was the life these particular actors breathed into their roles that made the evening so very entertaining. All of the actors committed to a riveting swift pace that intensified the plot and kept the audience engaged. Lindsey Carroll did a lovely job of portraying the multi-faceted inner turmoil of the governess, Marcy Kleiner, adding an intriguing element to her role. Ms. Carroll’s remarkable poise contrasted colorfully with the other employees of Ravenscroft Manor, punctuating the stifling role that class rank played in Victorian England.

The use of dialect was handled nicely, the British lilt somewhat softened by most of the actors which can be helpful to an American audience for clarity’s sake. The one character’s accent that didn’t follow this rule was that of Dolly, the scullery maid, brilliantly played by Johanna Jackson. Her thick cockney was perfectly appropriate for her lower-class, fresh-from-the-country character and expertly crafted at that—just one of the many delightful aspects of Ms. Jackson’s comic and creative performance.  Kasey Russell’s performance as Mrs. French was very satisfying as every good murder mystery must contain a suspicious cook, and her matter-of-fact, slightly flustered portrayal fit the bill while successfully keeping the audience wondering “whodunit.”

Actress Kari Hilmes introduced a truly enigmatic Gillian Ravenscroft, deftly managing one of the most beguiling mysteries of the play.  Alison Bridget Chambers offered a commanding performance as Gillian’s mother and lady of the manor, Mrs. Ravenscroft. Her stately and well-groomed demeanor elicited a striking juxtaposition of trustworthiness laced with suspicion. Ms. Chambers brought much to the script, toying with the audience’s loyalty specifically by way of the hauntingly serene smile pervading her expression.

The lone male member of the cast was the role of Inspector Ruffing, seamlessly played by David Alexandre Lawrence. It is through his character that we view these five women, and his performance—so sensitively acted—ensured that we were led through the stickiness of the thickening plot. As Ruffing, Lawrence had a specific challenge as the one character who appeared in every scene, but he handled it brilliantly through his unscripted imaginative choice to relate differently to each of the five women, supplying significant depth to his character while creating an added dynamic to the production that made it all the more enjoyable.

The staging was cleverly executed. Actors not immediately involved in the scene were seated in parlor chairs around the periphery of the stage, giving the unnerving impression that these characters were listening around the corner, possibly peeking through the keyhole or, in true murder-mystery fashion, peering from behind the eyes of a portrait. A few carefully selected pieces of furniture lent the perfect visual prompt to the audience, hinting at the opulence of the home while allowing the audience’s imagination to fill in the rest—a perfect solution for a touring company that will be in a new space every night. The costumes were historically appropriate, and the one costume transformation that occurred onstage artfully served the advancement of the plot and character concerned.

My one complaint is simply that, being a touring production, it was only in town for one night, for I gladly would have paid to see it again, even knowing the mystery’s resolution. If you are fortunate enough to have “Ravenscroft” come to your community I do hope you get to see this fine example of mystery theatre by a company of thespians obviously dedicated to excellence on every level of production.

Ravenscroft upcoming dates include:
     July 16 Owensville, MO
Owensville Theatre

     July 1718th Hermann, MO
Showboat Theatre

     July 19th -20th Perry, OK
Stage Coach Theatre

About the Author:
Amanda Wandres received her BFA from Duke University in Theatre and English.  She is the Operations Director for J. Franklin Publishers and crafts the newsletter for the Tulsa County Bar Auxiliary.  Wandres reviews live theatre productions for Tulsa Today, a local independent news service established online in 1996.  Traveling and resident companies are invited to contact her at – please use specifics within the subject line of all e-mail for prompt response.  This review will remain available online without expiration and may be linked without charge.