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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Yale Repertory Theatre

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Jenn Gambatese and Alexandra Socha
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, in world premiere at University Theatre and opening the season for Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, is a dark, complicated musical which fully evidences the blazing talents of its creators, Adam Bock and Todd Almond. The show is based upon Shirley Jackson's novel, and the current production showcases some terrific writing and bravura performances by Alexandra Socha, Sean Palmer and, foremost, Jenn Gambatese. Some aspects are more impressive than others.

The action takes place in 1958 in a large Bennington, Vermont, house where, some years earlier, members of the Blackwood family were poisoned. Survivors include Constance (Gambatese), whom some thought furnished the arsenic; and her younger sister Merricat (Socha). Merricat has anger issues and is particularly vexed when a cousin named Charles (Palmer) appears. He is handsome, might just have a notion that he can place his hands upon some hidden cash, and has eyes (or so it seems) for Constance. Constance likes to garden and cook but it is Merricat (whose literal name is Mary Katherine) who walks to town and brings back food and other ingredients. A fourth character who provides welcome comic relief is Julian Blackwood (Bill Buell), an elderly uncle to the sisters who was evidently poisoned but did not succumb. He is, however, confined to a wooden wheelchair. Julian might be a tad demented—perhaps this accounts for his occasional, absurdist outburst ... Another group of performers help to provide context and color as the Villagers and Blackwood Ancestors.

The distinctively odd Merricat feels that she is able to cast spells upon people. Witchcraft and magic are not foreign to her. With all that has transpired, she just might be paranoid. She absolutely loves her older sister and is not at all keen upon Charles, who will surely vie for Constance's time. At a certain juncture, Charles' pipe sets the whole house afire and, naturally, there is the question of just how all of this came to pass.

Todd Almond wrote the music and has successfully integrated the minor mode with varying key signatures. Bock provides the book, and both men penned lyrics. It cannot be a simple task to sing this music but the cast does exceptionally well. The highlight of the performance occurs soon after intermission when Constance, Charles, Merricat and Ancestors combine on "Come to Me." This is a shining sequence for Jenn Gambatese who is asked, on pitch, to repeat those words, "Come to me," again and again and again. A first act highlight? Watch for "The Stomp."

Anne Kauffman directs the presentation, and she does well with the tricky job of bringing performance elements, a brand new script, and many actors to task. Set designer David Zinn has created an eye-catching interior for the Blackwood family home. Stephen Strawbridge (lighting designer) initially and periodically casts the house in a blue hue which facilitates the necessary atmosphere.

It isn't easy to fully comprehend and assimilate We Have Always Lived in the Castle during its first hour. The production, though, congeals, as many moments during the second act captivate and ultimately endure. Thus, there is much to contemplate after one departs the theater. I would call the new musical invigorating and difficult.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle continues at University Theatre as this season's first Yale Repertory Theatre production through October 9th. For tickets, visit www.yalerep.org or call (203) 432-1234.


Photo: Joan Marcus


- Fred Sokol



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