Orange County Theatre Reviews

The Uninvited @ Westminster Playhouse in Westminster – Review

Written by Patrick Chavis 

Horror and Suspense are genres which require an extremely delicate touch. They’re just as frightening to produce as they are to write. When done well they can catapult a person into stardom—I like to call this the Shyamalan Effect (1. see below for definition). Both genres are effective because they feed on your expectations, and when successful, these stories connect with you on a cathartic level. Hitchcock bottled the suspense formula, while M. Night Shyamalan and countless other film directors having much more success in these genres than their theatrical counterparts.  This seems preposterous to me. Theoretically when it’s done correctly theatre should be much scarier than film because of the psychological proximity to the action. A failure to not implement, or at least take into consideration, the impact of creating a sense of danger for the audience is shunning one of things that makes theatre unique and special above all other forms of art – THE FACT THAT IT’S ALIVE!

In my experience of Orange County theatre so far, the directors putting on horror and or/shows centering on suspense are not competent enough to really highlight the genres’ best qualities. However this is not an issue limited to Orange County.  I do not think the theatre world has really explored the genre of horror much. There are a few examples of theatre doing horror well (look to the article below for examples). Unfortunately, Brandon Ferruccio’s production of The Univited cannot be added to that list. It supplies some drama, but the play’s ultimate resolution falls gravely (pun intended) short. 

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Review, Theater, Uncategorized, westminster community theatre Comments Off on Rehearsal for Murder @ Westminster Community Theatre in Westminster – Review |

Rehearsal for Murder @ Westminster Community Theatre in Westminster – Review

Photo credit Greg Z. Newcomb for Westminster Community Theatre

Written by Patrick Chavis 

Murder mystery reviews are a trap. Good or bad the chances of dropping a spoiler are exponentially increased in these plays because they are all about the details (clues). Boasting an obviously talented cast with an almost non-existent set, WCT succeeds in pushing a rather “generic” murder mystery into something a little more thrilling and entertaining. If you’re old enough to be Matlock fans, this play is right in your wheelhouse.

The name in the title says Rehearsal for Murder, but that’s not exactly accurate, or is it? It’s really a play about Monica Wells and her death. Monica Welles, a theatre actress played exceptionally well by Lisa March, is found dead with a suicide note after receiving mixed reviews for her latest show. All signs point to suicide, but Alex Dennison, Monica’s lover and powerful theatre playwright, feels he knows better. Using his influence, Alex devises a play rehearsal to weed out the culprit, but like any murder mystery there’s more too it than meets the eye.

I can’t articulate enough about how solid the acting is throughout the entire production. The acting is so well done, especially by Stephen Alan Carver, you almost bypass the obvious and way too predictable resolution of the story. Flat out, besides the two main characters, the audience is given very little reason to care about any of the other characters in the script. 

Overall, the lack of action in this script is remedied with a really likable cast making the scenes enjoyable and worth the price of admission. But for theatre goers looking for a suspenseful night of shock and awe, it might not be enough.  


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Frighteningly Dull – The Haunting of Hill House @ Costa Mesa Playhouse in Costa Mesa – Review


Stephanie Thomas, John Sturgeon, Kay Richey, Robin L. Watkins, Elle Grant, Gabriel Lawrence

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A group of people, a haunted house.  A large and ominous mansion that at times seems to have a will of its own, psychologically controlling its hosts and keeping viewers on tenterhooks.  This premise is used in many ghost stories, including the classic horror film The Haunting, which was adapted from Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House.  Imagine a story based on psychological torment, spiritual manipulation, and a desperation for safety that contrasts sharply with a desperation for belonging–now imagine a stage production of that story which methodically strips away most of that tension and you’ve basically summed up the Costa Mesa Playhouse show.  


The year is 1960.  A scientist by the name of Dr. Montague has requested that several people join him in the dreaded Hill House, which has a history of people leaving with recommendations that the house be burned to the ground.  These people are: Eleanor–a timid woman, who once had what might be deemed an “otherworldly” encounter as a child. Theodora–a brazen artist who can identify “19 out of 20 cards” when they are held out of her view, and Luke–the young man who will one day inherit Hill House.   They are joined at intervals by the hilarious housekeeper Mrs. Dudley, and the doctor’s own wife Mrs. Montague with her assistant Arthur.  As the play progresses the group is frightened by various aspects of the house, and Eleanor’s own state of mind deteriorates more severely than anyone could have anticipated.


  With limited space the production designer created a lovely and realistic looking living room and bedroom.  The bedroom door, which plays a significant part, is well structured in its role.  While not overly spacious, the stage is sufficiently spaced and decorated for its purpose. Largely, the issues arrive not because of the space but because of the lack of movement. 

HH9 - Barbara Duncan Brown, Elle Grant

Barbara Duncan Brown, Elle Grant


The players do not move enough.   As previously stated, the audience only has access to the living room and the bedroom.  The moments that take place in the hallway or the tower are voiced by the actors offstage and then discussed later in front of the audience.  It is entirely possible for this format to work.   But that would require the characters to be moving around in the space, and they simply do not.  Instead they sit or stand in one place for long periods of time, moving only occasionally,  seemingly devoid of purpose except that an invisible director told them that it was time to switch from the chair to the sofa.  The lighting is appropriate for setting one mood, but fails to transition into a “storytelling” mode.  In a suspenseful story, things like tone are pivotal, but the lighting of this story does not adjust.  


Acting wise the Lead actress Stephanie Thomas is appropriately timid and withdrawn from the beginning, but her loss of sanity fails to come across.  Her Eleanor doesn’t change enough to make the audience feel genuine concern for her well being.  Elle Grant is miscast as Theodora, for although the character is intended to be young and beautiful, it is painful to hear Theodora refer to Eleanor as “kid” and “baby” when Eleanor appears to be in her 40s and Theodora could easily be a high school student.  Gabriel Lawrence is inconceivably monotone as  Luke.  His use of inflection and phrasing is completely devoid of feeling.  The best performance of the night is that of Barbara Duncan Brown.  Her Mrs.  Dudley is cold, purpose driven, and creepy. Honestly, rent the original (1963) movie the Haunting. It’s cheaper & you’ll actually get the scare, you were looking for.      


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Ticket Info at the website:


Location & Dates :  

661 Hamilton St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

October 24th – November 16th 


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