2nd Story Theatre’s summer season continues with a stylish production of "Rebecca," a stage version of the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier that was adapted for the big screen by thriller master Alfred Hitchcock and won the Oscar for Best Picture (1940).
Rebecca is the name of the widowed Maxim de Winter’s first wife who drowned in a yachting accident. The audience first meets Maxim (Jeff Church) a little more than a year after Rebecca’s death when he is returning home to his mansion, Manderley, from his honeymoon with the second Mrs. de Winter (Erin Sheehan). Anxious to welcome Maxim back, and mostly curious to become acquainted with his new wife, is his sister, Beatrice (Tray Gearing), her husband, Giles (F. William Oakes), and his business partner, Frank (Alex Duckworth).
Having been orphaned and raised without privilege, the shy, meek Mrs. de Winter is noticeably uncomfortable in her new, lavish surroundings. Her unease is further enhanced upon meeting the seemingly stoic housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Rae Mancini), who goes about her duties as though Rebecca were still alive.
Determined to make Maxim happy, the new Mrs. de Winter tries to become more familiar with Manderley and the household rituals formerly facilitated by its predecessor, but her efforts to make her husband forget about his dead former wife are futile when evidence surfaces that calls into question the circumstances surrounding her death.
Hitchcock’s film is an abridged version of the novel, and this stage adaptation is essentially a condensed version of the film, but the film noir effect is well conveyed on stage with an unsettling albeit effective aura of mystery, and most importantly, the story remains intact. The sophisticated set design (by Trevor Elliott), including a fireplace, mantel and a split staircase with an ominous wall of windows at its landing, serves the timeline of eerie events especially well.
Director Mark Peckham churns out several impressive performances within this entertaining production, most notably, Sheehan as the displaced head of household. The actress’ portrayal is remarkably convincing, as her character evolves from gullible and innocent to resolute and unwavering. While I’ve always (perhaps unfairly) envisioned him as brooding and contemplative, Church portrays the newlywed widower Maxim as mostly pleasant and even gentle, with good results.
Jonathan Jacob is outstanding and steals every one of his scenes as Jack Favell, Rebecca’s smarmy cousin, and fellow supporting players Gearing, Oakes and Duckworth all give fine performances. Because I’m such a tremendous fan of her work, I couldn’t shake the impression that Mancini wasn’t entirely comfortable in the role of Mrs. Danvers; nevertheless, her icy portrayal is commendable.
I strongly encourage a visit to Manderley this summer, courtesy of 2nd Story Theatre’s stirring production of "Rebecca."
"Rebecca" continues through July 29 at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market Street, Warren, RI. For info or tickets, visit 2nd Story Theatre’s website.