Thursday, October 26, 2017
By ERIC McCREA
The Hopewell Theatre treated audiences to a unique show for Halloween. Most famously known as a film, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a psychological chiller that works surprisingly well on stage.
Baby Jane Hudson, played by Maria Ceraolo, is a washed-out child star whose life revolves around caring for, and tormenting, her more famous sister, Blanche (Barbara Malizia), who uses a wheelchair. The lack of love between the sisters is apparent as Jane revels in her power over the household. Blanche becomes desperate and tries to seek help, which only accelerates Jane’s decline.
After placing an ad in the paper, hoping to revitalize her career, she meets Edwin Flagg, played by Robert Ellway, who takes advantage of her generosity. However, when Blanche interrupts the process, it seems to put her over the edge.
Malizia and Ceraolo had big shoes to fill, considering the legendary status of their film counterparts (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), but both of them succeeded at making the roles their own.
Malizia portrayed Blanche well. Her screams of terror were cutting and penetrating. Physically, she was fully committed to her restrictions, and everything she did felt draining. Each line from her carried weight. She also was able to carry an air of mystery about her, which greatly impacted the ending.
Ceraolo was great as Baby Jane. She was able to deliver lines sweetly, but with heaps of psychologically unhinged subtext. Even when smiling ear to ear, she instilled fear in the audience. Her laugh at the end of Act 1 was especially frightening.
One aspect that made the film captivating was the perceived animosity between the stars, which was not really a factor in this production. However, the show remained tense and gripping.
Jenna Cintavey appeared as Elvira the housekeeper. Her concern over Blanche felt genuine, and she didn’t try to shed that naivety, which is integral to her character.
Monica Beasley-Martin played Mrs. Bates, the nosey neighbor and adoring fan of Blanche. Although a small role, it is pivotal and well done. She also deserves a nod of credit for toughing out an injury and completing her performance.
Erica Perna played Mrs. Bates’ daughter, Abby. Her teenage take was fun, lightening up the show when needed. Her dress was also a fun throwback.
Also worthy of note was Trudy G. Mason as Mrs. Flagg. She used a distinct accent to create character, and it really made her stand out.
The set worked well for scenes in the Hudson home, but other locations were insubstantial. Lighting effects were a nice addition, but recorded voiceover parts were a little too obvious because of ambient sounds included with them. Additional underscoring throughout the show also might have helped.
The show includes some violent moments and minor adult language but is well worth catching.
“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Hopewell Theatre, 702 Mahoning Ave. For reservations, call 330-746-5455.