THE MANOR – MURDER AND MADNESS AT GREYSTONE marks its nineteenth season. The play surpassed its two hundredth performance in 2014 and continued to delights audience through 2020, when the pandemic struck and shuttered all theaters in Los Angeles. Written by Katherine Bates and directed by Martin Thompson, this 2024 production of THE MANOR will mark its first – and final – performance since 2020.
Amy Tolsky, Nathalie Rudolph, and Carol Potter – Photo by Casey Durkin
THE MANOR is a fictionalized story based on real events that actually occurred to living-breathing people who will exist forever in history. Try the “Teapot Dome Scandal” on for size. Inspired by the sad but true tale of the Doheny family – the richest of the rich and pre-eminent early Beverly Hills residents – author Bates has fashioned a fascinating story of their rise and fall in the flapper era and beyond. The play’s subtitle, “Murder and Madness at Greystone,” says it all.
Kristin Towers-Rowles – Photo by Casey Durkin
Patriarch Charles MacAlister (Darby Hinton) has the world in his hip pocket – too much money to count; Marion (Carol Potter), a beautiful wife who is also the perfect hostess; Sean (Peter Mastine), a handsome son; and the biggest and best chateau in the hills overlooking nascent Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Doheny Manor will be a gift for MacAlister’s only son on his wedding day to the charming and accomplished Abby (Nathalie Rudolph). It may be Prohibition, but the champagne flows freely as society’s elegant upper crust dine and dance at the wedding of the century as if there were no tomorrow.
Daniel Leslie and Darby Hinton – Photo by Casey Durkin
But maybe there is a tomorrow. There are dark shadows hidden beneath the brightly spangled and decorated socialite crowd. Wedding guests also include the reluctant Gregory Pugh (Eric Keitel), a special friend of the bride, and his raucous showgirl wife Henrietta (Kristin Towers-Rowles). And then there’s Senator Alfred Winston (Daniel Leslie) – an avatar for the Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall – with some murky plans to manipulate the monied MacAlister into political machinations way beyond his ken. How about investing in the development of a tiny military base in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor – an investment which would allow Winston to grab the mineral rights to some undeveloped but mineral-rich stateside acreage?
Nathalie Rudolph – Photo by Casey Durkin
In order to appreciate the elegance of the Doheny lifestyle – and its devious underpinnings – the audience is divided into three groups and taken to different rooms where the action is happening by their guides, Ursula (Katyana Rocker Cook),the housekeeper, James (David Hunt Stafford), the butler, and Ellie (Gail Johnston), the mute maid. Slowly, the story begins to come together – and madness and murder will surely emerge.
Nathalie Rudolph, Carol Potter, Peter Mastine, and Darby Hinton – Photo by Casey Durkin
Theatre 40 does an excellent job of breathing life into those distant historical characters. After 19 years, the production keeps getting better and better. No theatrical set can ever match the actual halls of Greystone mansion. The costumes for both Part I (the roaring 20s) and Part II (the depressed 30s) are superb and keep the audience focused on the life and times of the Dohenys. Even walking from the parking lot at Greystone Manor is a treat, what with the sculpted gardens, bubbling fountains, and meandering pathways. THE MANOR is a show not to be missed, especially since the word about town is that this is probably the last year that it will be presented in Greystone Manor.
Katyana Rocker-Cook, David Hunt Stafford, and Gail Johnston – Photo by Casey Durkin
THE MANOR runs through February 3, 2024, with performances at 1 p.m. (matinees) on 1/20, 1/21, 1/27, 1/28, and 2/3 and at 6 p.m. (evenings) on 1/18, 1/19, 1/25, 1/26, 2/1, and 2/2/24. The Greystone Mansion is located in Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Tickets are $75. For information and reservations, call 310-364-3606 or go online.