THEATER REVIEW: Strong supporting cast buoys intense du Maurier tale

“My Cousin Rachel”/ Ghent Playhouse

SOME DECADES AGO, Diana Morgan skillfully adapted a “plotty” Daphne du Maurier novel, “My Cousin Rachel,” for the stage. It’s a good story.

The wealthy, male-only household of Philip Ashley, a young Cornish innocent, is slowly taken over by a charming Italian woman, widow of the young man’s surrogate father. Is she (Rachel) devoted to her dead husband’s memory—or is she a money-seeking murderer?

In the Ghent Playhouse production, director Jason LaSusa’s supporting cast is particularly strong. Paul Murphy gives one of the most convincing characterizations of his numerous Playhouse roles. George Filieau adds charm and art to Seecombe, the family retainer. Todd Hamilton chooses to make a possibly stock villain into an attractive, layered individual. And Sam Reilly creates a full human being out of a houseboy role with lots of entrances and exits but only about five lines. (He does it with body: posture, gesture, gait.) Most interesting of all the “supporters” is the 15-year-old Rozara Sanders as Louise, whose sparkling presence grabs audience eyeballs even when they are supposed to be going elsewhere. (But will somebody give Rozara a wig? Her hair looks disturbing boyish and modern for the character.)

The beautiful Stephanie Tanaka sabotages her own beauty with an odd, almost silent-movie approach to the title role of Rachel. It’s the director’s job to fix that.

As the young Philip, Michael Meier takes a quite a leap from his usual light fare. He digs a direct path to strong feeling and emerges with some very real rage, obsession and pain. The ability to do that is a huge component of what is usually called “talent.” To fill the transitional and less emotional moments in a play, technique is in order. Although Meier could use more technique, he is well-equipped for the intense second act, and it belongs wholly to him.

The set by Tom Detwiler is dominated by tall, earth-toned wainscoting topped with salmon walls that look like watered silk. Although the watered silk is probably meant as plaster, one could imagine a rich Victorian parlor in rural Cornwall with both silk affluence and woody rusticity. Nicely chosen art is on the salmon.

This play will not be particularly treasured by the avant among us, but sometimes a good, juicy 1940s-, 1950s-style plot is to be happily embraced.

Tickets are available at www.ghentplayhouse.org or at 800 838-3006.

 

 

 

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