“Withering Heights” High Death Toll, High on Laughsby Brie Stimson July 11, 2017
The Roustabouts’ production of “Withering Heights” is an exercise in how many characters two men can play. The answer is more than I can count, but I don’t care because I’m laughing.
The story takes place in the mid-19th century upon the wild moors of Yorkshire, England at a place called Thrushcross Grange – and moves at a breakneck speed. Years pass quickly in flowery prose and with a high death toll. Silly gags like an (occasionally delayed) lightning sound effect whenever the words ‘Withering Heights’ are spoken, a sock puppet angry dog or Schein putting on one of the rare wardrobe accessories to make himself look well endowed, are met with a generous amount of witty dialogue.
The boys never change costume. They simply rely on their voice and physicality to get across to the audience which character they are at which moment (which changes relentlessly.)
It’s clear to anyone in the audience the show is not pulled off without a generous amount of work and talent, and the actors have the experience, comedic timing and stamina to make the audience forget that there’s no intermission.
Phil Johnson (Heathcliff) and Omri Schein (Catherine) are the writers as well as performers of the play. Johnson is a partner in the Roustabouts Theatre Company, and an award-winning playwright. Schein is an award-winning lyricist with an MFA in musical theater from San Diego State University. David Ellenstein, the artistic director at North Coast Rep, directs the show.
For those who never read the novel, Johnson and Schein’s comedy gets the message across. (I’ve never read the book, but had no problem following the jokes.)
If you go into the play knowing 18th century Yorkshire was filled with a lot of death, disease, cruelty and sexual repression, you’ll get the jokes. (I know it sounds like a great foundation for a comedy, but it is.)
If you enjoy literature, satire or just solidly good jokes, “Withering Heights” is a good bet for an enjoyable evening.