×

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The mansion on the hill is disturbingly askew and the young girl who lives there has an unnerving self-possession.

With:
Merricat Alexandra Socha Constance Jenn Gambatese Julian Bill Buell Charles Sean Palmer Also: Joy Franz, Carly Hughes, Beth McVey, Ryan Murphy, William Parry, Matt Pearson, Richard Todd Adams, Heather Ayers.

The mansion on the hill is disturbingly askew and the young girl who lives there has an unnerving self-possession. It’s all part of Shirley Jackson’s slyly menacing, next-to-abnormal world that she evokes in her 1962 novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” premiering as a musical at Yale Repertory Theater. Adam Bock, Todd Almond and helmer Anne Kauffman have succeeded in creating a stage fable of anxiety and glee, and while their show still needs work to deepen and further musicalize Jackson’s tale of small-town persecution and familial murder, even at this stage of development it’s a spellbinding tale to see and hear.

The production mixes the sweet with the deadly, not unlike the arsenic in the sugar bowl that wiped out most of the wealthy Blackwood family. Surviving are bad seed Merricat (Alexandra Socha), her hypersensitive older sister, Constance (Jenn Gambatese), and their mentally unraveling Uncle Julian (a darkly dotty Bill Buell), who is obsessed with that fateful last supper.

Into their well-ordered self-confinement comes their cousin Charles (Sean Palmer), who seeks forgiveness for abandoning the family in their time of need. His charm belies another agenda as he brings out Constance’s sexual yearning and, unknowingly, Merricat’s wicked ways.

Bock’s book captures Jackson’s eerie calm at the center of dread. Almond’s music captures the plaintive, as well as the playful, and perhaps fills in the emotional underpinnings that a 1966 play based on the novel, written by Hugh Wheeler and directed by Garson Kanin, failed to do. And Kauffman balances tension and humor while keeping the narrative and music flowing smoothly.

The actors are also fine. Socha beguiles with her first glint, conjuring a sense of other worldliness and privilege. Gambatese beautifully expresses fatefulness and longing, mixed with a touch of madness. Her repeated pleas to Charles of “come to me” are Philip Glass intense. You can understand the attraction, too, since Palmer brings a lot of sex appeal to Charles. His duet with Constance, “She Didn’t Get Very Far,” bursts with delightful improvisation.

But a re-enactment of the fateful dinner calls for some musical accents. And several of the songs feel unfulfilled or abbreviated, instead of offering more explored expressions of theme and character. Almond and Bock’s lyrics try to echo Jackson’s spare writing, but they too often come across as thin rather than precise or evocative.

Production and musical values (there’s a eight-piece band lurking behind the manse) are impressive. David Zinn’s vast skeletal set solves many — though not all — of the story’s challenges. While the design provides for a climactic fire and the home’s final diminishment (assisted by Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting), the mansion’s vast grounds and woods where Merricat finds a feral escape are too minimally suggested.

But this unsettling Gothic has a lot going for it and might yet emerge as a heady brew for a new age of anxiety.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

University Theater, New Haven, Conn.; 650 seats; $85 top

Production: A Yale Repertory Theater presentation of a musical in two acts by Adam Bock, based in a novel by Shirley Jackson, with music by Todd Almond and lyrics by Almond and Bock. Directed by Anne Kauffman. Music direction by Dan Lipton.

Creative: Sets, David Zinn; costumes, Ilona Somogyi; lighting, Stephen Strawbridge; sound, Tony Smolenski IV; musical staging, Sean Curran; orchestrations, Almond and Lipton; stage manager, James Mountcastle. Opened, reviewed Sept. 23, 2010. Runs through Oct. 9. Running time: 2 HOURS 10 MIN.

Cast: Merricat Alexandra Socha Constance Jenn Gambatese Julian Bill Buell Charles Sean Palmer Also: Joy Franz, Carly Hughes, Beth McVey, Ryan Murphy, William Parry, Matt Pearson, Richard Todd Adams, Heather Ayers.Songs: "We Blackwoods," "Gossip," "Spring Is Coming," "The Last of Our Slow, Lovely Days," "I'm Dreaming," "His Beautiful Thought," "Cleaning/On the Moon," "The Stomp," "I Know You," "She Didn't Get Very Far," "Come to Me," "Smoke," "Fire," "Believe Me," "Everything That Grows," "Yellow Flower."

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content