by Kristin Walters
I never thought I would describe an adaption of an Edgar Allen Poe horror story this way, but The Hypocrites’ production of “The Fall of the House of Usher” is undeniably, perhaps regrettably, cute. Director Sean Graney integrated humor well in last season’s “Romeo and Juliet”, leaving enough tragedy to render unease at the end, but in “Usher,” the comedy takes over. During the closing (terror-filled?) scene I didn’t know whether to shudder or laugh.
Roderick Usher, suffering from insomnia and nerves, beckons his “best loved” friend to his dreary, crumbling house in the country. Upon arrival, the visitor (who Graney has changed from a male friend to a female love interest) hopes to help her dear friend, maybe even marry him, but Usher’s twisted twin sister and their haunted house stand in her way.
Three actresses take turns as each of the four characters (a device that adds humor rather than any insight into identity). Tien Doman and Christine Stulik project similar, high-energy iterations of the roles, while Halena Kays’ characters come off a bit meek. I want to respect Kays’ quieter interpretations, but in contrast to the volume and vitality of Doman and Stulik, it feels as if she is lagging behind. Kays almost rejects the audience while Doman longs for them and Stulik wraps them around her little finger.
“Usher” ends after only an hour; the story feels rushed and does not allow enough time for suspense to build. Most of the dialog consists of jokes or summaries of plot points that Graney decided not to show. But Christine Stulik stuns with her big bright eyes and fluttery voice and the laughs keep a smile on your face the whole time. It’s worth seeing, but keep in mind that this play about madness, incest and murder trades foreboding for fun.