2nd Story Theatre's Rebecca is Hauntingly Beautiful
Jeff Church as Maxim de Winter and Erin Sheehan as the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca.
Richard W. Dionne, Jr.
Sometimes while driving along Ocean Drive in Newport, I wonder what goes on beyond the gilded gates. What is life like inside those glorious estates with floor-to-ceiling, sea-facing windows, gargoyles and immaculate lawns? I’ve imagined myself as the wife of some prosperous heir or tycoon, lounging in the gardens looking over the tumultuous ocean, or planning my gowns for various high society soirees. But then I realize life is not perfect for the elite, either. Want proof that money isn’t everything? Then go see the stage adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca at the 2nd Story Theatre in Warren.
The story takes place in Manderley, an eerie mansion on the cliffs of the Cornish Coast, not unlike our familiar Newport mansions. The set depicts the interior of the manor with an elaborate staircase and fireplace, antique furniture and deep mahogany doors. The stairs are surrounded by huge windows that are actually a backlit screen projecting video of the angry sea. While you are watching the play unfold from a darkened theatre, you feel the foreboding ocean’s role in the sinister tale.
Maxim de Winter (a versatile Jeff Church--last I saw him in Take Me Out, he played a Southern racist on a baseball team) is an affluent young man whose first wife, Rebecca, suspiciously drowned while taking her sailboat out alone. To escape her death, Maxim jet sets off to Europe and meets a sweet, innocent young woman, whom he decides to marry only eleven months after Rebecca’s death. The new Mrs. de Winter (Erin Sheehan) arrives at Manderley, unaccustomed to the high-society lifestyle, where she is expected to run the estate in place of Rebecca. She is clueless about her duties, and enlists the resident housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Rae Mancini) to handle the household as usual.
Completely devoted to the dead Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers is cruel to the new Mrs. de Winter, who was previously the companion to a rich American woman in Monte Carlo and never had a maid of her own. She purposely sets her up to fail in the eyes of her new husband. Day after day, things go awry, and Mrs. de Winter ultimately loses that glimmer of innocence in her eyes that Maxim fell for. He quickly grows enraged over small mishaps and she cowers in fear, yet there is a sadness about him that she wants to heal. After hearing so much about his late-wife, Mrs. de Winter attempts to be more like her haunting predecessor. But when she grapples with what to wear to Manderley's upcoming costume ball, Mrs. Danvers deviously provides a white gown that Mrs. De Winter is sure Maxim will love. Little does she know, it will ignite a rage in him unlike any she has seen before.
There’s a mystery about what really happened to Rebecca, and after learning what went down in that mansion, the audience is left to pick sides. You’ll question your own morals and the difference between right and wrong once you learn the real story about Rebecca—the seemingly perfect wife.
Rebecca is playing at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren through July 29. For tickets, go to 2ndstorytheatre.com or call 247-4200.