The Roustabouts Theatre Co.’s new comedy, Withering Heights has to be the silliest version of Bronte’s classic to date. Practically nothing is taken seriously as dramatic chaos gets blown out of proportion.
In a world where the gothic hit exists, a lonely maid, Nelly (Founding Partner, Phil Johnson) tells audiences about the real events that inspired the so-called “romance.” Catherine, or Cathy Earnshaw(Omri Schein) lives with her family in an 1800s England country house, Withering Heights.
She falls for an adopted gypsy at her home, Heathcliff (Johnson). Both of them want to be together, yet forces beyond their control keep driving them apart.
Artistic Director of the North Coast Repertory Theatre, David Ellenstein, accomplishes a tricky illusion at Diversionary Theatre. His staging is meant to appear simple and straightforward, but anyone paying attention will realize Ellenstein’s direction is beyond workmanlike.
The “Wuthering Heights” plot is condensed and Ellenstein makes sure that theatregoers can follow the massive and often strange story. Ellenstein’s storytelling ensures that every major incident that happens is surprisingly easy to follow.
Artists behind the scenes hint at the doom that comes to the players. Scott Amiotte’s cemetery set indicates that violence isn’t out of the question. Plenty of non-graphic and cheeky over the top deaths start happening after the first couple of minutes.
Melanie Chen’s audio and Curtis Mueller’s lighting are expertly timed and maintain the melodramatic qualities that are an integral part of Bronte’s prose. Their efforts blend in well with James Olmstead’s foreboding score.
Johnson and Schein play every role, and wrote the loony script. Each of them wear only one costume from Elisa Benzoni, and represent at least a half a dozen men and women including teenagers and judgmental upper crust adults. They hilariously expose the flawed and sometimes twisted personalities of each person including Heathcliff, Catherine and Catherine’s evil alcoholic brother, Hindley (Johnson).
Both writers take shots at a variety of subjects ranging from greed, exposition and Bronte herself. These intelligent moments of dialogue occur in between well-timed bathroom humor, bizarrely staged pregnancies and Saturday morning cartoon-style slapstick.
Withering Heights runs a little over 90 minutes, yet some changes in the script could result in a smoother pacing. Certain reoccurring jokes are repeated too often. One raunchy line about undergarments is hilarious the first time. However, the line isn’t quite as humorous when it is brought up again.Also, a 15-minute intermission would be welcome, because so much material is covered throughout the evening. There is a sequence when Nelly seems to be wrapping things up, only for a new chapter of her tale to begin. This would have been be a perfect place to include a quick break.
That doesn’t mean that the later scenes should be cut. In fact, one of Schein’s most hilarious characters is introduced at this time. Schein plays Withering Heights resident, Linton, as a deeply neurotic Woody Allen-esque dweeb whose numerous health issues are comically absurd.
San Diegans who saw advertisements for Withering Heights should know that the run is extended. Since a second production from Roustabouts for the summer, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe was cancelled, the comedic saga is running until July 9.
Ellenstein and the writers/stars continue a promising opening season for Roustabouts with an enjoyably ridiculous parody. Whether you love, hate or haven’t read the book, you can still get a lot of laughs from Johnson and Schein.