Off the Wall Productions has started their season off strong with the production of The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs. If this show is any hint at what the rest of the season has to bring, then in my opinion, audiences are in for a treat.
The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs is an adaptation of the Legend of Bluebeard, in which a young woman marries a wealthy older gentleman, moving into his palace of a home. She is given free rein over the house, all except for one small room at the top of a hidden staircase. Her husband forbids her from entering the room, but curiosity gets the best of her. While her husband is away, she climbs the stairs and enters the room, only to find the room bathed in blood and the bodies of his previous wives.
Now, it would be terrible for me to simply divulge the plot in its entirety in four sentences. As I mentioned, this production is an adaptation of the legend that already manifests itself in many versions. The story follows the same basic structure; young and innocent Grace has married a handsome, wealthy man and moved into his mansion that boasts 28 rooms including 10 guest rooms. Grace’s mother Joyce is overcome with joy that her daughter has married such a wealthy man and is able to live the life of a princess, while her older sister is rather suspect of her husband and in turn, her proclaimed happiness.
The intensity in which Diana Michelle Griffith played Grace in both her innocence and suffering was outstanding, while the trembling in her voice, expressions and motion while in the small room was gripping. Grace is filled with so much conflict, both within herself and with every other character in the story and her chemistry with each character was unique and believable.
Ken Bolden portrays Henry, the rich stock market man without a worry in the world, in such a charming way. His confidence and cheerfulness filled the room, while slowly revealing the layers of his character and the mysterious darkness contained in a small corner of his persona.
Amanda Brooke Lerner played Anne, doing a wonderful job portraying the strong, jaded older sister. Anne married a normal man that might be considered “safe” and calculates her value through the humanitarian work she has immersed herself in. She is suspicious of Grace’s husband and despises the superficial values of her mother. Lerner does well in expressing her loathing for her sister, while still being genuinely worried for her safety, even if she is just hoping to be able to say “I told you so.”
The excitable Joyce is played by Sharon Brady, who had to have been an obvious choice for this role. She does wonderfully in portraying the mother overjoyed that her daughter has hit the marriage jackpot and can live the lavish lifestyle she could never secure for herself. Her hysteria actually made me nervous when she found out her daughter was disobeying her husband and she saw the possible crumbling of her dreams.
Finally there is the stony, emotionless maid Jenny played by Amy Landis. Every time she showed up on stage, whether by surprise or when beckoned, I became nervous. She is very obviously in love with Henry and jealous of Grace. Landis did well in her subtle expression of condescension toward Grace and lit up (as much as the character could) when interacting with Henry. Her lack of emotion was appropriately awkward and every time she reluctantly curtsied for Grace it drew uncomfortable laughs from the audience.
Not only was the acting outstanding, but the set was very surreal and intriguing. I must give credit to Bob Steineck for the lighting design. The lighting (something that is usually an afterthought for me) was superb, playing up both Grace’s emotions and the suspenseful mystery of that small room at the top of the stairs. There were times I was quite literally on the edge of my seat with suspense and feeling truly terrified of what was to come. Even the subtle details of the costumes were completely on point for each character; my favorite actually being Anne’s – just by looking at her I could have guessed what she was all about. I must say that I was thrilled with the quality of this production and cannot wait to see what the rest of the season has in store.
Special thanks to Off the Wall for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: October 17, 2014