Photo: Wayward Actors Company
Cry of the Banshee
By Tim Kelly
Directed by Craig Nolan Highley
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Cry of the Banshee begins with a filmed prologue excerpted from the 1970 Vincent Price movie of the same name. It is meant to introduce supernatural forces in the history of the Whitman family that occupies the center of the modern-day plot of this play. But as director Craig Nolan Highley is well known for his devotion to the legendary actor, it must have been an irresistible opportunity to “cast” Price in a production. The film, produced by low-rent studio American International Pictures, was the last of the overripe, gothic horror movies that defined Price’s later career.
I wish that Highley had managed some of the same campy energy for this production, which feels too conservative in its approach. To be fair, it was clear that opening night was not-quite-ready for prime time, yet one more reminder that few local companies are in a position to afford either adequate rehearsal time or preview performances with which to cement the relationship between audience and ensemble.
But I also wish that Tim Kelly’s script, a follow up to his own screenplay for that 1970 movie, had been more adventurous. It takes firm root in the now predictable conventions of the genre without reaching for a fresh spin. The modern-day Whitman family, led by Mrs. Patricia Whitman (Janice Walter), had long ago moved to America. She has two grown children, Sean (John C. Collins) and Maureen (Laurel C. Henning), a housekeeper, Lily (Sarah Mackell), and a stable manager, Roderick (Jeremy Gutierrez), who happens to be in love with Maureen, although their relationship is a secret.
Patricia has summoned a friend, parapsychologist Dr. Gordon Hessler (Highley) to look into things, and the first scene introducing all of these characters felt long and listless on opening night. It badly needed a shot in the arm.
It arrived in the person of Hilary Ford playing one more family member, Elizabeth Whitman. Her entrance was a boisterous shot of adrenaline, almost as if Ms. Ford was observing the action from backstage and could see exactly what was needed. She blasts on to the stage tossing costume pieces with casual comic arrogance, a pillar of privilege and conceit. Two other antidotes followed her hard upon to lethargy, Jesse Abraham Patrick and Claire C. Hagan as family friends and brother and sister Harry and Carol Rondeau. They somewhat jump-started the proceedings.
After that, the Whitman family is stalked by a supernatural threat, a Sidhe, or evil spirit, conjured up by Oona (a playful Debbie Smith in what in 1940 have been the Maria Ouspenskaya part), a gypsy living in a nearby caravan; all of which is explained by Dr. Hessler. These stories always demand such an expert be on hand. There is also a fairly impotent private detective played by Owen Kane, who could just as easily be written out, and one last character, well-played by David Wate, about whom the less said the better. No spoilers here, folks.
The second act plays better than the first, but the plot resolves itself without any real surprise, and Banshee never reaches the giddy Grand Guignol delight of Highley’s last, much more successful revisiting of a Vincent Price classic, Theatre of Blood in 2016 at The Alley Theater. But that source material was much more inspiring.
The ensemble is made up of capable performers who will undoubtedly find their groove and discover some greater potential in the script. Cry of the Banshee is a good choice for October, the month of Halloween.
Cry of the Banshee
October 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 @7:30pm
October 14 & 21 @5:30
Wayward Actors Company
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.