We Have Always Lived in the Castle at City Lit Theater | Theater review
Paul Edwards adapts Shirley Jackson’s macabre final novel.
Paul Edwards’s new adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s deliciously macabre final novel imbues dramatic movement into a heavily voice-based, character-driven work. Only occasionally, however, does the production reach the heights of its source material.
Elise Walter shines as Merricat Blackwood, Jackson’s quirky, charming narrator. Merricat lives in a fantastical world of magical symbolism, into which only her older sister, Constance (Sheila Willis), and their Uncle Julian (Kingsley Day) are permitted access. Merricat knows the townspeople despise the Blackwoods; the three are the sole survivors of a poisoning that killed the rest of the family. When we later learn of Merricat’s grave misdeeds, we’ve been so won over by her charm it hardly matters. This is some feat in the pages of a novel; in Edward’s staging, it’s accomplished primarily via the energy and playfulness of Walter, whose graceful presence only partially shields a terrified vulnerability.
The play’s second act doesn’t move as powerfully as the first. Charles, the outsider predicted by Merricat, arrives. The problem with Charles (an affable Thad Anzur) is that his role feels unclear. Not sinister enough to be a real threat, his interest in the family remains unconvincing. Merricat’s need to turn him out leads to a horrific climax; fans of Jackson’s “The Lottery” will recognize her thematic obsessions: othering and the evils of groupthink. Still, the overlong denouement contains far too much summary to reach a satisfying conclusion.