nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
May 9, 2006
The Necklace is a serial mystery in eight episodes (which are performed in pairs), with four writers, two directors, and what seems like a limitless multitude of characters (though if I’m counting the program correctly, it’s actually only 18, not all of whom appear in the two episodes I saw), including a mysterious monster-under-the-stairs who takes the form of a towering mound of laundry. I’m not entirely sure I have any idea what’s going on by the end of episode two (which is probably completely intentional), but the crackerjack design team, witty directing, and a pack of terrific performances make for a delightful, if confounding, evening of theatre.
The series is set in a mysterious mansion on a mysterious moor that seems to be somewhere in the Northeastern United States, a mansion that is both a “house of the house” and a “house of the mind.” Inhabiting this mansion are Fanny, an elderly widow; John (aka Nazim), the butler who has served her family and her home for more than 40 years; Fanny’s twin nieces, Iris and Ruby, adolescents who are running a secret business from the basement under the guise of homework; and Donald, a recently orphaned great-nephew (I think) of Fanny’s who’s lately joined them. Also making appearances are a mysterious child, Theo, who may be a figment of Fanny’s imagination; Donald’s deceased parents, Marvin and Judith, who are most likely imaginary; Donna Monitor, an angry neighbor who is also a real-estate agent with designs on the mansion; the aforementioned Mound; and a vaguely Russian, distinctly sinister salesman who’s probably really either a cop or a criminal. And this is to say nothing of the person or persons John is almost certainly hiding in the attic, Ruby and Iris’s potential co-conspirators in the basement, the voice of Larry King, or several key players in several secrets that are alluded to throughout—like the girl in the grey sweater. And, oh yes, there’s a necklace—which has already disappeared, reappeared, and vanished again by the end of episode two.
As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a wild ride, punctuated by musical numbers in a variety of styles, from John’s opening Weimar cabaret-esque ballad to the twins’ Bollywood/ belly dancing number in episode two. The writing (Lisa D’Amour wrote episode 1 and Paul Zimet episode 2) is a little florid, but it suits the atmospherics. And the tightly choreographed, cleverly constructed recap of part one that opens part two might in itself be worth the price of admission.
The ensemble as a whole, adroitly directed by Melissa Kievman and Anne Kauffman, has a marvelous uniformity of tone, striking just the right formula of one part tongue-in-cheek to two parts sincerity, with a dash of camp, a sprinkle of razzle-dazzle, and the occasional completely over-the-top portentous utterance thrown in for good measure. Suli Holum and Katie Pearl, as the twins, are especially good with the physical business, matching each other’s stylized crispness adroitly. Andy Paris is terrific as the overly mysterious Russian, both comic and menacing.
Peter Gordon’s music (and, I assume overall soundscape, though it ’s not credited as such) is important enough to almost be a character. The scoring and sound effects add immeasurably to mood and tone at every turn, as well as reinforcing the old-time radio themes. I was impressed by Anna Kiraly’s clever and flexible set, which uses simple materials—mostly movable flats with different architectural elements painted on them—to create a maze of disappearing stairwells and rambling corridors.
I can’t claim to fully understand episodes one and two of The Necklace. Maybe it would all be made clear if I saw episodes three through eight, and maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe it needs to be a little murky so that audience members seeing only episodes five and six remain no more at sea than the rest of us. But even if I wouldn’t want to take a pop quiz on the plot, I enjoyed this stylish, entertaining evening of theatre.