Four friends meet a mysterious caretaker and enter a house rumored to be haunted. A classic set-up…but nothing is as it seems in Woman in the Walls. For these spirited folk who brave the old sins and long shadows on Hamilton House and the Ghost of Claire Forsythe, it will be an adventure they’ll never forget. The same can be said for our amazing performers who fully embraced the madness, mystery, and magic of our newest Master Mystery Production. Here they’ll provide their own psychic insights into what really makes their characters tick and what it takes to bring to afterlife a truly spirited performance.
SPIRITED FOLK: The Making of Woman in the Walls (Part 2)
Known in the village of Hamilton Park as The Sullen Songbird and The Woman in the Walls, Claire was the wife of the house’s owner, physician John Forsythe, who was forced into a rest cure following the birth of her child in the 1890’s. Confined to the drawing room, Claire descended into a deep madness from her isolation and separation from her child. Claire’s life is told in flashbacks, but she is often heard singing sweet lullabies to her faraway baby deep in the walls of the haunted mansion. Tiffany Cheney returns for her lucky seventh Master Mystery Production in her first leading role for the company. She debuted in the 2018 season with performances in the Chorus of our murder mystery opera, Exit Prima Donna, the Ensemble in What Happens at Sundown, and a Pirate in Mutiny on the Sea Witch. In 2019, she returned to play Marie Antoinette in Eat Cake at Amargosa Opera House. In Summer 2019, Tiffany won the Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond for her outstanding work on Foul Play, our life-sized murder mystery board game, including designing the entire jewelry inventory used at MMP. She completed the 2019 season as the Sound Designer and Stage Crew for Monica Dwyer’s sold-out production of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind. Tiffany shares her thoughts on the haunting Ghost of Claire Forsythe:
“Claire Forsythe was a new mother who loved her baby more than anything but after having the baby she became distant and struggled to balance the love she had for her child with her her feelings of self deprecation. Her husband, a well-know physician, misdiagnosed Claire’s postpartum depression as female hysteria and forced Claire into a rest cure, locking her away in a room by herself. In isolation, Claire felt betrayed by her husband and endured great pain at being separated from her baby. The pain and loneliness led Claire to quickly lose her grasp between what was and was not real. To pass time, Claire often talked to the portraits of the mansions previous owner’s, the Hamilton’s. However, talking to the portraits did not bring her solace as Claire viewed the portraits as her ultimate judges and she often begged them for forgiveness. Wanting only to be reunited with her baby, Claire sings lullabies in the hopes that her child will hear her and come to her. Claire will do anything to be reunited with her child in a paradise far away from her husband and Hamilton mansion.”
Dr. John Forsythe was a Victorian physician who owned Hamilton House in the late 1800’s, having bought the property from the bankrupt gentry who built and owned it for generations. He diagnosed his wife’s post-partum depression, an unheard-of illness in Victorian England, as “general female hysteria” and had her isolated in the house’s drawing room. Outwardly very sweet and affectionate to his wife, his actions are nonetheless layered with an obstinacy that verges on tyrannical. Calvin Johnson is an exemplary and experienced actor with a long list of credits and accolades to his name. He was first seen at MMP originating the role of Geoffrey Challenger in our legendary 2015 productions of Goodbye Hollywood and its stage expansion: Goodbye Hollywood: At the Rainbow’s End. In 2016, he voiced the final transmission for astronaut Dr. Gary Fredericks in our lunar mystery, Ex Luna. He was our Accent Coach for 2017’s Ode to Agatha. He returned to our stage in 2019 in the role of Henri in Eat Cake, his fiery portrayal winning the deeply coveted Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. He repeated this honor in Foul Play, taking home a second Diamond Mask for the role of seemingly sweet Southern lawyer, Rusty Clementine, making Calvin the first male performer to win multiple Diamond Masks. Outside of MMP, Calvin is a working voice actor. Here Calvin will give his diagnosis on the good doctor:
“Dr. John Forsythe is the epitome of ‘a product of his time.’ While a brilliant doctor in his own right, perhaps one of his greatest flaws is that he tends to see his patients as only that: patients, rather than people; his wife Claire being no exception. While he genuinely wants her to get better and to be able to care for their child, he makes no effort to truly understand her, preferring his own methods of treatment which, while acceptable at the time, would be seen today as horrendously outdated, if not barbaric. Stubbornly traditional, he and his methods ultimately prove that the old way is not always the best way.”
Lucy is a bright woman who, thanks to smarter investments (and a few thousand pounds sealed in biscuit tins in the garden), managed to hold onto her fortune despite the worldwide financial crisis in 1930. She’s the one who rented the house for her friends to spend “a jolly, old-fashioned holiday away from the dank, depressing streets of London.” Bright, vibrant, and cheerful, Lucy always looks on the positive side, no matter how dire a situation becomes. But don’t mistake her optimism for foolishness. Lucy has a sharp mind and is very practical when it comes to a crisis. Beth Sparks-Jacques is a talented returning veteran of Master Mystery Productions who debuted as a member of the Chorus in Exit Prima Donna in Spring 2018, where her amazing work and dedication backstage helping to costume most of the cast earned her the Skeleton Key Award. She returned as a member of the Ensemble and Costume Mistress for September 2018’s What Happens at Sundown. Beth continued to spread her wings with other theatrical companies in 2019, playing Pamela in the Community Light Opera and Theatre Association’s (CLOTA) production of The 39 Steps and playing a Nun in the Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society’s (RMES) production of Newsies. She came home to MMP to originate the role of Pallas Athena for our touring production of Lenore Nevermore in October 2019 to widespread acclaim. Beth gives us her take on the unlucky heiress:
“Lucy is a combination of Mary from Downton Abbey and Nancy Drew. Unapologetically rich, she is often disdainful of others. Don’t let that cause you to think she doesn’t care. She cares very deeply for her friends. She just has a hard time showing it. Her keen intelligence is a source of pride to her.”
Sweet with a touch of nervousness, Eliza is an orphan who works at a luxury hat shop as an assistant. Lucy met Eliza there and decided to make the girl her new best friend. Hamilton House makes her uncomfortable from the moment she enters, but she is hesitant to say why. While not as bubbly and friendly as Lucy, Eliza is a polite, mature young woman who discovers her own strength during her stay at the mansion. Olivia Holm is an award-winning actress and artist joining us for her fourth MMP show. An extraordinary makeup artist, Olivia’s skill shone in her first show with us, What Happens at Sundown in September 2018, where she provided the extensive SFX makeup, earning critical praise and the Skeleton Key Award for her work. She made her acting debut with the company as Honey Boudin in Monica Dwyer’s Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, her sweet and sassy performance winning Olivia her first Diamond Mask Award. She also provided the amazing Bigfoot makeup for the production. Her biggest makeup triumph came in Lenore Nevermore in October 2019, where, beside playing the Ensemble, Olivia designed and executed the full body Pallas Athena makeup, transforming the actress into living marble. Her jaw-dropping work earned her a Special Commendation from Master Mystery Productions. Olivia provides her second sight insight on Eliza’s character:
“I started developing Eliza by creating a music playlist. Eliza hits various emotional levels throughout the show and trying to replicate that for every single performance would be difficult without having something to connect it to, at least for me. So I spent a whole day compiling a list of music that resonated with each emotional level that I have to hit as Eliza. Some of those songs include ‘Pretty Little Head’ by Eliza Rickman, ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D’ by Superorganism, ‘Ms’ by alt-j, and finally ‘When the Day Met the Night’ by Panic at the Disco to connect to Arthur, Eliza’s fiance. Once I got her internal musical monologue solidified I wanted to start finding her physicality and voice. Her physicality and how she walked and stood came easily after I tried on her costume and started working in heels. The voice was a bit of a challenge at first because I was having trouble locking down a consistent accent, but with the help of Calvin Johnson, we were able to find and solidify Eliza’s voice. All in all, Eliza is such an amazing character and I can’t wait to bring her to the stage.”
A charming woman well-versed in literature, art, and science, Grace is excited by the prospect of staying at the house, claiming it to be “a masterpiece of a Victorian monster” she wishes to study. Prosaic in her imagination, she is skeptical about the notion of ghosts and is a vocal dissenter to the spiritualism shenanigans the group engages in. As the scholar of the group, she is most useful as the group’s scientist and criminologist when they find themselves snowed in with deadly forces surrounding them. Lexi Phillips is a returning Master Mystery Productions veteran with numerous acclaimed roles to her credit. After make her stage debut in RMES’ production of Little Women: The Musical as a member of the Chorus, she joined MMP to play the role of reclusive actress Iris Royale in Foul Play in Summer 2019. In October that year, her masterful gender-bending performance as the suave yet smarmy Guy de Vere in Lenore Nevermore earned her the coveted Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. Lexi marks Woman in the Walls as her third show with Master Mystery Productions. Let’s let Lexi tell us more about the bookish Grace:
“My second female role in MMP and it was almost a male one! Grace was Graham in auditions, making her to be a rather flexible role. Thus I’ve taken a more tomboy approach. Snarky, witty, and playfully sarcastic, Grace doesn’t exactly live up to her name. Not a demure or ladylike woman of the 30’s by any means, she adores science and knowledge, which made it easy to connect with the character as I have similar interests. The difference with us being I entirely believe in ghosts but Grace… not so much! I guess every good horror story needs one non-believer…”
Arthur is Eliza’s longtime fiancé who is madly in love with her and trotted alongside her to his country house party despite fond wishes of “a quiet holiday at home.” Calm and supportive, Arthur provides a great deal of moral strength to the group when things turn dark, deadly, and dangerous. Despite working as a lorry driver, Arthur has grand dreams to give the love of his life everything she could ever want, even though she is happy just the way they are. Arthur is more willing to believe in ghosts, as he too felt the pervasive sadness in the very walls of this ghostly mansion. Davis Kunz is a talented newcomer who makes both his Master Mystery Productions and stage debut in Woman in the Walls. He has been a frequent playgoer and has attended many past MMP shows, and he is excited to step through the curtain and experience theatre from the other side of the stage. Davis will share his thoughts on Arthur:
“Arthur is a young, working-class lad from the North of London where the economic depression of the Big Slump has hit the hardest. I was immediately drawn to Arthur’s qualities of devotion to his sweetheart Eliza, and the strength of his core moral beliefs that help him overcome a natural nervousness to dream of building a grand life for them both. To those ends he is a hard worker, not afraid to take on odd-jobs like driving a lorry to make ends meet, while hoping to save enough to be married. He’s a good son, who is ever-ready to support his family and neighbors, but he’s lived a sheltered life and isn’t used to venturing far from home, especially during the holidays. But Eliza’s strength has transformed his life, and he’s learning to be strong in return, especially to help her through her periods of ‘sensitivity,’ as he calls them. Toward Eliza’s friend Lucy, he has mixed opinions, because he respects her, and appreciates her friendship with Eliza, but is undecided on Lucy’s motivations, worrying that she is treating Eliza like a charity case. He might grow short with Lucy if he thinks she is “acting her class.” Toward Grace, Arthur is not at all put off by her detached attitude and barbed wit. They tease each other constantly about the importance of whatever their current occupation is. Arthur recognizes a fellow lonely spirit, as he once was, and offers friendship to help buoy Grace through hard times until she can find her purpose the way he found Eliza. As my debut role, I am excited to portray a complex character like Arthur. I love that, despite his quiet shyness, I can give him a bit of cheery bravado to balance the in-pressing shadows. These four plucky heroes will need all the help they can get to face the dark, tip-toeing nightmares of Hamilton House.”
The odd caretaker of Hamilton House, who was once a maid under the Forsythe’s time at the mansion, Nina is a brash and stalwart woman, eager to tell stories, but she is also highly distrustful of strangers and tends to live like a hermit. Renting out the mansion was a last ditch attempt by the current owners to make some money to reinvigorate the crumbling property, and Nina is not in favor of the idea. Still, she enjoys toying with the foursome who rent the house, teasing them with stories of the manor’s darker past. She claims to be a kind of medium, although not “a charlatan off to make a quick pound of Mrs. Gullible and Mr. Brainless,” having inherited the Gift from her grandmother. Nicole Johnson is a multi-award winning and extremely lauded actress. After years as a background artist, she joined MMP in July 2017’s sold-out production of Ode to Agatha as Miriam Lancaster. Her dedicated work on the show and her unforgettable performance launched her into stardom as only the second person in our history to win both the Skeleton Key Award and a Diamond Mask Award for the same production. She closed her MMP debut season as a voice actress in C. R. Rowenson’s The Silent City. In 2018, she won her second Diamond Mask Award for a heartfelt, passionate performance as Leonora in Exit Prima Donna. Returning in 2019, she played the role of Marianne, the rebel maid, to perfection in Eat Cake. Performing as the boisterous tavern owner Big Red in Monica Dwyer’s Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, Nicole gave the performance of her life to claim her third Diamond Mask Award, only the third performer in history to reach that milestone. As a festive close to her 2019, she performed as Mrs. Cratchit in both the Ridge Writers’ Dickens Tea and in CLOTA’s radio show of A Christmas Carol, leading a critic to describe her as “the quintessential Mrs. Cratchit.” Nicole gives us her perspective on working with Nina’s character:
“I have to admit that when I auditioned for Woman in the Walls, Nina was not the character I focused on. When I was cast as Nina, I wasn’t sure about Nina. As I have gotten to know Nina, I find her intriguing. She’s an onion. She has layers! On first glance she seems to be a gruff caretaker of a dilapidated Victorian mansion. You could almost vision her as a Scooby-Do villain! But dig deeper. There you find a treasure trove of rich character and emotion. To create my vision of Nina, I delved into what life was like for Victorian servants. Nina would have been a wide eyed girl coming to serve a well mannered family in a great house in the 1890’s. But what she steps into is a nightmare. That transforms the wide eyed girl into the gruff middle aged caretaker in 1930. Underneath that gruffness is a fierce caretaker with a big heart fighting to protect the secrets within the dilapidated mansion. I also threw a little bit of my Aunt Red in there. She was a gruff little human with a heart of gold. Nina does everything with purpose. I will walk into a room and forget what I went in there for. Not Nina. She knows why she’s there and what she’s there for.”
You have now met the amazing cast and creepy characters of Woman in the Walls! Have you received any sympathetic vibrations over what might happen to them in this haunted mansion? Or is the snow piling up outside Hamilton House distracting you? Learn how we keep our characters warm and snuggle in vintage knits, woolens, sweaters, and cardigans as we unveil the costume design for the show in our next beyond-the-veil blog post, Knit, Please!: The Making of Woman in the Walls (Part 3)!
And be sure to snag your tickets before the disappear! Call the Amargosa Hotel Front Desk at (760) 852-4441 8AM to 8PM daily to get your seats.
–Master Mystery Productions