TR Robertson …. Omri Schein and Phil Johnson have taken a classic Victorian Gothic romantic novel, Wuthering Heights, and retold the tale in a way unlike anything you have ever seen before. Co-authors of “Withering Heights”, currently on stage at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights, these two award winning actors/writers, have penned their version of the story of Heathcliff, an English street urchin who is adopted by the Earnshaw Family and his attempted rise through the English social classes of the 1800’s while he has a struggling unfulfilled romantic love affair with the equally socially challenged Catherine. But this is a tale unlike any theatrical experience you have seen as each actor will play 6 or 7 characters from the novel. North Coast Rep’s Artistic Director, David Ellenstein, directs this comic spoof of the Gothic tale. Ellenstein is a veteran of over 250 theatrical productions.
Phil Johnson is a partner in The Roustabouts Theatre Company and a two-time winner of the San Diego Critics Craig Noel Award for acting. Omri Schein won the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival Award for Excellence in Writing and is the lyricist for the upcoming musical “Mambo Italiano”. The audience could feel their stage chemistry and energy as they quickly changed roles as the story unfolded. Using minimal stage props and costumes, one moment you would be hearing from Heathcliff, one moment Catherine, one moment Catherine’s brother Hindley, Hindley’s wife Frances, Mr. Earnshaw, the family dog; you get the idea. Fourteen characters would appear to tell the tale of Heathcliff, his doomed love for Catherine, and the other side stories that make up this classic Victorian tale. Along the way, Nelly the maid, played by Phil Johnson, would guide us through the complexity of the characters and their relationships. Nelly would also help with the body count as characters died off.
Photos by Daren Scott
Curtis Mueller serves as Lighting Director and Melanie Chen is the Sound Designer. At just the right moment, whenever the name Withering Heights is uttered, thunder claps and lightning flashes along with additional sounds appearing as needed or musical interludes supplied by James Olmstead. Johnson and Schein use the minimal set props throughout the play. On stage we see a tombstone, a large picture frame complete with red curtain, a butter churn, a bare gnarly tree and an ominously dark backdrop of the English Moors.
Emily Bronte’s novel was her only novel, written in 1845 and published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. She would die the year after her novel was published. Initially not well received, the novel did challenge the strict ideals of the Victorian society regarding religious hypocrisy, the morality of the time, social classes and outside acceptance, and gender inequality. Johnson and Schein also, in their own way, challenge these ideals, but along the way you chuckle and snicker at what you see on stage. It’s simply a good time, not to be taken too seriously, with a tremendous presentation by two accomplished actors. Their facial expressions alone are worth giving this tale a look.
The Roustabouts Theatre presentation at the Diversionary Theatre, at 4545 Park Blvd., will run until July 9th. Tickets are $38 and some discounts are available. Call 619-728-7820 or go to www.theroustabouts.org for tickets or information. The 2018 season for Roustabouts will begin with Phil Johnson in “A Jewish Joke”. Next up for Diversionary theatre, beginning their 32nd Season, will be the West Coast Premiere of “Homos, or Everyone in America”, beginning Sept. 14th. For information on the Diversionary Theatre productions call 619-478-6942 or go to www.diversionary.org.