The ghostess with the mostest

Beyond the Veil

By John Chatterton
Directed by John Chatterton and Alan Kanevsky
Where Eagles Dare Theatre
347 W. 36th St., ground floor
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 26;; 212/868-4444)
Review by Byrne Harrison

Often as advances are made in science, those whose worldview is being challenged reach toward the spirit realm seeking assurance and solace. It’s true now -- just look at the way the supernatural pervades our literature, movies and television -- and it was most certainly the same in Victorian England. Beyond the Veil, John Chatterton’s play about sex and spiritualism, draws interesting parallels between our culture and theirs, while challenging our ideas of what lies beyond.

William Royce is a man of science and reason. He is naturally skeptical when his friend Lord Darnley tells him of a young medium, Florence King, who is visited by spirits. Royce invites her and her mother to come to his house so he can observe, and debunk, one of their séances. Almost immediately the young girl makes a dire prediction that comes true, forcing Royce to question his whole belief system and driving him into the arms of the supernatural. With the guiding hand of the spirit of his lost love, Trudi, and under the subtle influence of Florence and her mother, Royce gets deeper and deeper into his study of spiritualism until a shocking revelation causes the disintegration of his faith in science, the supernatural and mankind.

Beyond the Veil is a captivating play, and the production at Where Eagles Dare Theatre was solid. The set, costumes, and props by Roi Escudero “Bubi,” though they wouldn’t stand up to a historian’s scrutiny, suggested Victoriana, as did his scientific instruments and supernatural special effects. Kanevsky’s lighting and Elliot Lanes’s sound design added to the eeriness of the supernatural scenes. Kanevsky’s lighting, and Escudero’s use of projections to create the “spirit cabinet,” a box in which the medium is enclosed, were simple, but remarkably effective.

The actors were talented, especially James Arden as William Royce. Arden had the most challenging role, moving from haughty skeptic to wide-eyed believer to hardened swindler over the course of three acts. With his roguish smile and lordly demeanor, he was a pleasure to watch. Nora Armani and Naama Kates were amusing as the mother/daughter team. Armani’s Mrs. King was most interesting when her demeanor slipped and she showed some of her mercenary side. Kates’s Florence was remarkable -- part slack-jawed simpleton and part feral seductress. Gregg Lauterbach was amusing as the effete, and often breathlessly excited, Lord Darnley, and Sean Dill as the down-to-earth Vicar was a fine actor with a powerful voice and an expressive face. Rounding out the cast was Rachel Rhodes as Iris, the maid.

While this production was good, there were some flaws that should have been disposed of during rehearsals. The actors had a tendency to step on each other’s lines or jump their cues. The scene changes, handled almost exclusively by Rhodes as Iris the maid, took too long. In addition to the pace of the scene changes, occasionally the actors acknowledged each other or, in Arden’s case especially, did some bit of business during the semi-blackout covering the change. Either the scene changes should be done in full light and be part of the action of the play, or they should be done with efficiency and with no acting or stage business.

The main problem with the production, however, was not something that could be easily fixed. The stage at Where Eagles Dare Theatre is simply too small for the scope of this play. The actors and directors clearly did everything they could to make use of the space they were allotted, but this show and its talented cast deserved a much larger stage.

Clearly, if the main complaint was that Beyond the Veil overcame a limiting theatre to create a commendable production of a fascinating play, then Chatterton and Kanevsky have much to be proud of.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison