Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” has all the elements of a gothic romance: a young heroine in love, a haunted mansion, a murder mystery. What it doesn’t have is a lot of yuks … though you wouldn’t know that from Rachel Atkins’ new stage adaptation of the novel, now on view at Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theater.
While the play is bookended by dark, ghostly images, it proves frequently amusing, at times even campy. On opening night, director Jane Jones and the cast had not quite made sense of the script’s split personality — spooky one minute, antic the next. And that’s clearly the challenge as this new “Rebecca” goes forward.
In case you’ve forgotten: “Rebecca” tells the story of a young, timid English bride, circa the 1930s, who follows her new husband Maxim to his creepy country estate, Manderley. Everything and everyone at Manderley serve as constant reminders of Maxim’s first (now dead) wife, the witty, well-bred and unforgettably beautiful Rebecca.
Book-It approaches the tale simply, with a set of movable curtains and doorways (suggesting a nightmare hallway of doors), and offstage musicians setting an eerie mood. But that mood shifts once the action gets under way.
Many of “Rebecca’s” gothic conventions seem plain silly from a contemporary vantage point: The mousy little bride (Annette Toutonghi) who furtively sweeps up a broken tchotchke like a guilty child. The forbidding housekeeper (Amy Thone) who fingers her dead mistress’s nightdress with a decidedly lascivious air. The butler (Dennis Kleinsmith) who announces surprise guests with the gravitas of an undertaker.
It’s all undeniably entertaining, but it could be argued that the laughs get in the way of the book’s more thoughtful themes: Can true love erase a mortal sin? Or is a sinner forever beyond the pale of love? And how do our fears become our obsessions? Book-It’s new adaptation suggests these questions, but doesn’t fully mine them.