Take a dash of “Downton Abbey,” a dollop of Daphne du Maurier and a heaping cup of Chekhov and you have most of the ingredients Conor McPherson used to cook up his 2011 haunted house play “The Veil.” Fold in the Irish dramatist’s fascination with the spiritual and the occult, as seen in his oft-produced “The Seafarer” and “The Weir,” and you have the full recipe.
Quotidian Theatre Company has mounted the U.S. premiere of “The Veil.”
The production showcases a lot of good acting — and some that is better than good. The show carries an audience along with ease. Yet something is missing. Issues of staging, and especially pacing, dampen the theatrical effect and prevent the troupe from achieving the next level of performance that awaits it.
The handsome set, designed by Quotidian artistic director Jack Sbarbori, who also directs “The Veil,” evokes a whiff of faded opulence. It is the parlor in an Irish country manor, circa 1822, wherein dwells a family of English gentry in straitened circumstances. Tapestries, gilt-framed portraits, and furniture of black and gold fill the elegant space. The costumes, by Sbarbori and Stephanie Mumford, have an unfussy, Jane Austen-ish look.
The plot unfolds like a period beach novel: The widowed Lady Lambroke (Michele Osherow), owner of the manor, has invited a friend, the defrocked Rev. Berkeley (Steve LaRocque), for a visit. He will then chaperone her daughter Hannah (Chelsea Mayo) back to London, where the young woman will enter into an arranged marriage to alleviate her mother’s financial woes.
Certainly, the estate manager, the hard-drinking Mr. Fingal (Michael Avolio), who hasn’t been paid in 13 months, hopes all goes as planned. Despite his back-pay issue, Fingal harbors tender feelings for Lady Lambroke, a presumption far above his station.
The Rev. Berkeley has brought a friend, Mr. Audelle (John Decker), a nattering philosopher whose past deeds and present weaknesses affect everyone in the house.
The Rev. Berkeley and Mr. Audelle have a separate agenda involving Hannah. The gifted young woman “sees” and “hears” things that go bump in the night — things that pertain to her father’s death and other tragedies. Hannah avers that her visions are mere nightmares, but the Rev. Berkeley and Mr. Audelle believe otherwise and aim to prove it.
Meanwhile, word comes of poverty and calamities ravaging townsfolk and tenant farmers, foretelling the anti-English Troubles to come.
An old family retainer, Mrs. Goulding (Stephanie Mumford), bustles in and out of the parlor, seeing to everyone with cups of tea. Mumford gives the lady an earthy comic persona. The young housemaid Clare, naive and pining for Mr. Fingal if he can ever forget Lady Lambroke, gets a similarly full-blooded portrayal from Christine Alexander. Jane Squier Bruns takes a lovely turn as the Lambroke clan’s intermittently dotty great-grandmother. LaRocque’s Rev. Berkeley, Decker’s Mr. Audelle, Osherow’s Lady Lambroke and Mayo’s Hannah are all well-rounded characterizations, their lines spoken with unstilted English and Irish accents.
A lesser work of McPherson’s and a patchwork of styles “The Veil” may well be, but with solid acting, which Quotidian has, it can hold an audience as well as any BBC America miniseries, and with far richer language and ghosts.
Where Quotidian’s production falters is in its rhythm: Every scene in Sbarbori’s sedate staging tends to play like the last. The small company has always celebrated textually rich plays by the likes of McPherson, Anton Chekhov, Horton Foote and Eugene O’Neill. Quotidian doesn’t have the budget or the venue for lavish sets and fancy stage effects, but it does have a company of increasingly seasoned actors who can handle such difficult, literary scripts. What needs to happen next is a choice to take some enlivening risks in how they bring them to life.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
By Conor McPherson. Directed by Jack Sbarbori. Lighting design, Don Slater; sound, Jack Sbarbori; recorded fiddle music, Sarah Foard. Tickets $25 to $30. About 2 hours and 40 minutes, including an intermission. Presented through Aug. 17 by Quotidian Theatre Company at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda.