Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October, 1998
Shakespeare & Company's annual Halloween benefit - is highly entertaining and a lousy night of theatre. I have been wrestling with this dichotomy ever since I drove away from The Mount on Friday night. What is an entertainment presented by actors with sets and costumes and props and lights and make-up if it isn't theatre? What is theatre? Where is the line between theatre and entertainment?
The evening consists of three events - scarey stories in the Stables Theatre; a haunted hike from the Stables to The Mount; and a performance of "The Triumph of Darkness", a brief play adapted by Dennis Krausnick
from Edith Wharton's short story "The Triumph of Night". I found the central part of the evening the most entertaining and the most theatrical - although that was the part that least resembled traditional theatre.
I did not find the scarey stories very scarey or very effectively presented by three members of the Company. They were so very busy telling us that they personally were completely rational folks who didn't believe in ghosts that their stories of eerie occurences in The Mount held little credibility. I have no doubt that they are - in real life - rational people who don't believe in ghosts, but wasn't this the theatre? Weren't they performing? Why couldn't they have brought the audience closer to the supernatural events they were describing by entering more fully into them in their performance?
That is why the haunted hike was much more entertaining. None of the actors out to scare us en route to The Mount held anything back. They shrieked and spooked with no holds barred. The dark grounds of The Mount made a splendid setting for all these ghoulish goings-on. Walk coordinators Ted Hewlett and Carmen Mandley are to be congratulated on a large undertaking well done.
Groing up in New York City, I thought that I had seen some of the most splendid night time sights that there are to be seen - the Chrysler building, the diamond necklaces of light formed by the city's many suspension bridges, fireworks over the Statue of Liberty. But I will now add The Mount to that list of breathtaking sights. The night was crystal clear, and the stars brilliant against the velvet black of the autumn sky. A tiny sliver of a moon hung low on the horizon when we emerged from the woods on to the lawns of The Mount and saw the mansion for the first time. No exterior lights were on and only a few interal ones. The house loomed above us on its out-croppong of rock looking unearthly and imposing. It was a memorable experience.
Once inside the mansion we were treated to cider and donuts, allowed a bathroom break, and then brought into a formal drawing room of The Mount to see "The Triumph of Darkness". It was a short and unsatisfying play. Edgar Landa's bland portrayal of the evil John Lavington rendered the entire show ineffective. Also, while I enjoyed the cider and donuts, I felt that there was too much down time between the haunted hike and the play, and that the evening lost continuity.
I took my ten year old son with me to see "The Triumph of Darkness" and he just loved it. It was one of the most successful mother-son outings we have had in a long time.
So it was doubly confusing to me to realize that I essentially had to pan an evening that had been such fun for both of us. All I can say is that the evening was great entertainment and lousy theatre. As a theatre critic I cannot recommend it. As a mother, I would say pack up the family and go.
This evening is not for the very young, the faint of heart, or the weak of knees. You need to dress warmly because the Stables Theatre is not heated and the hike, obviously, is out of doors. Wear sensible walking shoes because you are going to be walking through the woods in the dark. Once inside The Mount the room where the play is presented is on the second floor. If you can't walk long distances or have trouble with stairs, this show is not accessible to you.
"The Triumph of Darkness" runs October 29, 30 and 31 at Shakespeare & Company's home at The Mount on Plunkett Street in Lenox.. All performances start at 7:30 PM except on Halloween night when there is also a 9:30 PM performance. Call 413-637-3353 for tickets and information.
Copyright Gail M. Burns 1998