×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Snake in the Grass

Alan Ayckbourn, master craftsman of acerbic British comedy who unaccountably has never quite caught on here in the States, ventured into the dramatized ghost story genre first with "Haunting Julia" and later with "Snake in the Grass," the latter now enjoying its U.S. premiere in a stylish mounting by the Salem K Theater Company.

With:
Alice Moody - Nicola Bertram Miriam Chester - Claire Jacobs Annabel Chester - Pamela Salem

Alan Ayckbourn, master craftsman of acerbic British comedy who unaccountably has never quite caught on here in the States, ventured into the dramatized ghost story genre first with “Haunting Julia” and later with “Snake in the Grass,” the latter now enjoying its U.S. premiere in a stylish mounting by the Salem K Theater Company. The dramatist injects just enough characteristic humor to lull us into a false sense of security before the thriller dimension takes over.

Sibs out of sorts are a classic Ayckbourn trope. Thirty years ago, worldly career woman Annabel (Pamela Salem) traveled halfway across the world to escape her father’s tyrannical clutches, and only his death would prompt her return. (It has.) By contrast, her mousy sister Miriam (Claire Jacobs), having sacrificed her life in father’s care, now paddles about the family manse in an ill-fitting jumper, loveless and purposeless.

Ayckbourn skillfully subverts stereotype within the familiar conflict. Annabel’s in ill health and still suffering the stings of an abusive marriage, and her self-command proves only skin deep. Meanwhile, timorous Miriam has developed surprising backbone — a handy quality when father’s nurse Alice (Nicola Bertram) arrives to demand a king’s ransom in exchange for her silence on the matter of the poison — and Miriam’s shove at the top of the stairs — which, she’s prepared to testify, sent dad to his doom.

Of course dad hovers nearby, for a good ghost story demands that the departed be present in life before we encounter him in spirit. Ayckbourn’s celebrated ability to create absent characters in his comic works serves him well in evoking Father Chester in all his narcissistic, bullying glory. We can readily believe the stage was set for bad, bad things many years ago, a mood reinforced by Laura Fine Hawkes’ brilliantly detailed set, the leaf-swept stone pathway, dilapidated summerhouse and untended tennis court wordlessly expressing pain and loss.

In the here and now, there’s bubbly humor in Miriam’s brisk readiness to send Nurse Moody whither the old man molders. But Leigh Allen’s spectacularly spooky lighting and Hal Lindes’ moody jazz themes warn us long in advance of this thriller’s supernatural destination, and the U.K.-bred ensemble’s authenticity of speech and manner is complemented by their skill in turning on a dime from hilarity to horror.

To reveal more would be churlish. Suffice it to say that Mark Rosenblatt’s direction takes pains to ratchet up the hackle-raising suspense, at the expense of some jump-out-of-your-seat moments script specifies but production doesn’t quite deliver. Still, “Snake in the Grass” winds up as deliciously creepy as its titular reptile.

Snake in the Grass

Matrix Theater; 99 seats; $30 top

Production: A Salem K Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Mark Rosenblatt.

Crew: Sets, Laura Fine Hawkes; costumes, May Routh; lighting, Leigh Allen; sound, Eric Snodgrass; composer, Hal Lindes; production stage manager, Young Ji. Opened April 4, 2008. Reviewed April 6. Runs through May 4. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: Alice Moody - Nicola Bertram Miriam Chester - Claire Jacobs Annabel Chester - Pamela Salem

More Scene

  • Billy Eichner Power of Pride Variety

    Billy Eichner on Taylor Swift's 'Calm Down' Backlash

    When Taylor Swift released her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, it seemed like every member of the LGBTQ in Hollywood was included — except for Billy Eichner. “I’m still not gay enough for Taylor Swift — or too gay — I don’t know what it is,” Eichner joked at Variety’s Power of Pride [...]

  • Bebe Rexha

    Mumford and Sons, Sting, Ciara, Bebe Rexha Light Up Cannes Lions

    There was no shortage of excellent music at the 2019 edition of Cannes Lion. The international gathering of creatives drew top music brands – among them: Spotify, Live Nation, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM/Pandora, VEVO and Universal Music Group – and a slew of well-known acts to stages across the Croissette, to villas above the city and onto [...]

  • Patrick Wilson

    Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace on Scary Stories From 'Annabelle Comes Home' Set

    Tales of spooky occurrences on the sets of horror movies like “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist” have circulated for years, and it looks like “The Conjuring” franchise is following in their footsteps in that regard. The cast of “Annabelle Comes Home” shared their unnerving stories from set at the film’s premiere on Thursday night at the Regency [...]

  • Donald Trump Chucky Childs Play

    'Child's Play' Stars on New Chucky's 'Creepy' Resemblance to Donald Trump

    At Wednesday night’s world premiere of the “Child’s Play” remake, it was obvious that evil doll Chucky — the star of seven films over three decades — had a little work done. And now he bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump. “Oh, you caught that?” Aubrey Plaza asked Variety on the black carpet outside [...]

  • Cara Delevingne attends The Trevor Project's

    Cara Delevingne Recalls Producers Saying That Being Queer Will Hurt Her Career

    Hollywood may be celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month with displays of the rainbow flag and lots of talk about supporting diversity and inclusion, but Cara Delevingne says there’s still work to be done. “Behind closed doors, we are still being told, as I have, by powerful Hollywood producers that we can’t make it if we’re queer,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content