A New Life For 'The Cat And The Canary'

This article is more than 8 years old.

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. – Cue the shrieks, strike the gong, assemble the suspects. “The Cat and the Canary” is back with all its haunted house history but played here, from start to finish, for laughs.

The story of a family gathering of cousins in a creaky old mansion where one will be declared the heir to a fortune is better known for its many film versions, the first a silent from Universal and later a comedy with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, so creepy comedy isn’t exactly a new idea.

But “The Cat” started out as a somewhat comic play by John Williard and as a play it returns in an enjoyable outing on the Berkshire Theatre Festival second stage with talented members of the Stockbridge theater’s student program, all from Yale except for J. Andrew Young of Brandeis. Other actors dressed as ghosts take the tickets and prowl the lobby and aisles.

This is a comedy that encourages you to turn the brain onto auto cruise and not worry too much about inconsistencies or even who done it. Director Ethan Heard has worked with former Huntington boss Nicholas Martin and knows how to get a large cast moving effectively and making merry together, particularly on a well-appointed set like Reid Thompson’s. Even if you see the punchlines coming it’s still enjoyable watching the cast milk them. These are students and there’s still some awkwardness, but there’s also a ton of promise.

Ashton Heyl as Annabelle West and Ariana Venturi as Mrs. Underwood in "The Cat and the Canary." (Abby LePage)
Ashton Heyl as Annabelle West and Ariana Venturi as Mrs. Underwood in "The Cat and the Canary." (Abby LePage)

Ariana Venturi as creepy caretaker Mrs. Underwood, Tom Pecinka as the Jim Carrey-ish Bob Hope figure and Willa Fitzgerald as one of the nervous cousins show the most promise, though the star, Ashton Heyl, has the thankless task of having to play things straight here, which she does quite well.

The Unicorn has been home to some edgy, gripping drama in the past and if you think that’s what the theater’s mission should be you’ll be disappointed with “The Cat and the Canary.” And I don’t know how happy I would be if this production were on, say, the Huntington or SpeakEasy schedule. But for light entertainment on a summer night? I can do goofy.

So can this troupe.

"The Cat And The Canary: Three Versions"

This program aired on August 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Ed Siegel Twitter Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.




Listen Live