A Supernatural Horror: ‘The Univited’ at Orange Park Community Theatre

Orange Park Community Theatre’s (OPCT) second production for this season, The Uninvited by well-known author Tim Kelly, is Halloween-themed for the time of year.  Even the ladies at concessions are in the spirit of the season.

The old house at Cliff’s End, owned by the young Stella Meredith (Madeline Gamel), has stood vacant for years.  Londoners Roddy Fitzgerald (Kellin Roquille) and his sister, Pamela (Maria Masters), having decided life in London is too chaotic, happen across Cliff’s End in their search for a new home.  Drawn to it, Pamela convinces Roddy that she can fix up the house while he continues his writing.  They are very surprised when Stella’s grandfather, Commander Brooke (Stan Mesnick), accepts their very low offer on behalf of the young owner, complete with all furnishings.  He does advise them, though, that the previous residents complained of strange noises and occurrences in the house and didn’t stay there long.

It doesn’t take long before the Fitzgerald’s get first-hand experience with some of the house’s eccentricities.  A visiting neighbor, Mrs. Jessup (Erika Hicks), is the first to give insight into the tragedy behind its reputation.  Stella’s mother, Mary Meredith, fell from the cliff years before and died.  Stella, who has befriended the Fitzgeralds and visits frequently, is continually drawn to the room that was her former nursery in the house.  As time passes, it is from that room that strange sounds and scents emanate.

The maid, Lizzie (Darlene Noel), can’t find her cat, and the occurrences increase from there.  When friends of the Fitzgeralds, Wendy (Erika Hicks) and Max Hilliard (Spencer Bridge), come to visit, at first they urge the sister and brother to move back to London.  As their money is now tied to the house, talk turns to finding out more about why the house has its reputation.  Meanwhile, Stella, on one of her visits, almost goes over the cliff, herself.  The doctor who cares for Stella (Tom DeBorde) stops by just in time to witness Wendy going into a trance as if possessed.

Over time, Roddy falls for Stella, and both he and his sister come to believe she’s in danger.  But from what, they’re not sure.  They seek out a close friend of Mary Meredith, Miss Holloway (Theresa Buchanan), who recants the story between Mary and another friend, Carmel – a tale that doesn’t end well.  The true threat still unclear, the group resorts to a séance.

Is Stella in danger?  Or are the new tenants the ones who should fear for their lives?  No spoilers here, so you’ll have to see the show.

The play is based on a Dorothy Macardle novel originally released as a supernatural horror film in 1944.  The Tim Kelly stageplay came out in 1979 with a slightly different take on the novel than the film.  While there is a more recent (2009) film of the same name, it is not based on the Macardle book and is a completely different storyline.

Director Cynthia Baker has created a creepy living room with some very nice special effects.  One can almost feel the chill in the theater as well as from the ghosts in the living room.  At the same time, she’s done it in a manner where the show is more youth-friendly.  The theater advertises that it’s PG-13, but depending on what your kids already watch, slightly younger ages could tolerate the effects.  She also quite tastefully does the intermission between scenes in Act II instead of having two intermissions between three acts.

The cast includes several veterans to the OPCT stage, including Maria Masters and Madeline Gamel, both of whom are now students at Florida School of the Arts.  Stan Mesnick was a real curmudgeon of a Commander.  Newcomer Erika Hicks pulled off two consecutive roles quite nicely, while Kellin Roquille, also new to their stage, was most believable as Roddy.  It wouldn’t surprise me if we see more of him.

Costuming was a team effort.  I have to give the cast kudos for the quick changes.  It made for fairly short transitions between scenes, so we were not waiting long, although the seats there are more comfortable than most locations.

OPCT is located at 2900 Moody Ave. in Orange Park.  For reservations or information, you can call 904-276-2599 or go to www.showtixnow.com.  Upcoming shows include their youth production, Aladdin, Jr., followed by a seasonal favorite, Miracle on 34thStreet.

About Cessy Newmon