Greystone Mansion is located on a hillside in Beverly Hills above Sunset Boulevard with great views and a very juicy scandal filled history. For 16 years, Theatre 40 has been presenting the interactive play The Manor—Murder and Madness at Greystone in the actual rooms where some of the original drama played out in the 1920s. It is a shame playwright Kathrine Bates could not use the real facts and names to tell her intriguing and convoluted tale. The influential Doheny family, President Warren G. Harding’s administration, the Teapot Dome Scandal and the specter of a clandestine and long-lived homosexual affair all figure into the true story. Bates has done a good job of “protecting the guilty” by spinning a tale of an immigrant, Charles MacAlister (Darby Hinton), who rose into society by his luck and knack in mining precious ore. His longtime friend Al Winston (Daniel Leslie) is now an influential and folksy Senator in the Harding administration and offers Charles a deal he can’t refuse. It’s Al’s compulsive gambling that leads to their fall from grace. Their long suffering wives Marion (Carol Potter) and Cora (Melanie McQueen) stick with them in the good and the bad times. McAlister has all his hopes pinned on his only son, Sean (Sol Mason), but unwittingly involves him in the scandal that will doom them all. The first act of Bates’s drama is set at the wedding of Sean and Abby (Annalee Scott), where the piano is stacked with presents from the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle. Abby had formed an attachment to her father Frank’s (Martin Thompson) handyman Greg (Mikel Parraga-Wills) whose poverty unfortunately left him out in the cold as a suitor for Abby’s hand. Instead he impulsively married English music hall entertainer and major flirt Henrietta (Kira Brannlund), The unhappily married couple both make scenes at the wedding reception. Act Two takes place nearly 10 years later as the political scandal is building to a cllimas and many of the men involved seemed headed to financial ruin and prison sentences.
Bates and director Martin Thompson have done a skillful job in parsing out the scenes to take place in various locations in the mansion. The audience is all gathered in the living room for some scenes involving most of the characters but then split off into three different groups to witness more private scenes of the building puzzle piece of a play. They follow either the butler (Daniel Lench), the housekeeper (Katherine Henryk) or a mute maid (Esther Richman) who also give some background on the mansion and the plot. The cast is very competent, especially when you realize they have to perform many of their scenes three different times for three different sets of audience members. The cast and crew effortlessly guide the audience through the rooms and into the plot’s machinations. It’s not as involving or sensational an experience as Tamara was decades ago, but The Manor is an interesting exploration of a local landmark and scandal.