At a typical theater production, you locate the designated seat where you will remain for the duration of the first act. You might stretch your legs at intermission, but then you’ll return to the same seat for the remainder of the show.
This is not the case when you have tickets to The Manor at Greystone Hall.
Back for its fifth year in West Chester, The Manor invites playgoers into the exquisite and historic Greystone Hall, where scenes are played out in various rooms of the home for a one-of-a-kind theater experience. Guests are divided into groups to move about the mansion and witness the drama of a 1920s murder mystery.
An esteemed wedding venue, Greystone Hall was built in 1907 by inventor and businessman P.M. Sharples, who later sold the estate in 1942 to the Philadelphia-based oriental rug firm Jerrehian Partnership. The mansion has been owned by the Jerrehian family ever since.
Velda Jerrehian Moog currently resides in the private residence of Greystone Hall, along with her daughter, Elizabeth, who manages all weddings held on the grounds. Moog isn’t quite sure why her parents were moved to purchase the estate, but she imagines it has something to do with their Armenian heritage. Her father fled Armenia in 1905, and her mother left for the States after losing her father and uncles in the horrific Armenian genocide. “I feel like their pride and joy in this property was somehow regaining something that had been lost earlier,” Moog speculates.
One of four children, Moog doesn’t have memories of grandeur on the home’s expansive acreage. Attending public school in west Philadelphia, she spent weekends and summers at Greystone Hall, where she remembers afternoon picnics with church members and the PTA, of which her father was president. “It wasn’t socialites. It was very casual entertaining,” she recalls. “It wasn’t showing off.”
The Manor was originally performed in 2002 at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Playwright Katherine Bates was inspired by the Doheny family, who owned the property before it was turned over to the city. The play serves as a fictional account of Edward Doheny, who drilled the first successful oil well in Los Angeles and is credited for jumpstarting the oil boom of the early 1900s in Southern California. Doheny played a significant role in the infamous Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, during which he was accused of bribing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for a lease of federal land. He bought Greystone Mansion for his son, Ned, and the murder that took place in the home is the basis of Bates’ plot.
After seeing the production herself in Beverly Hills, Moog knew it would be perfect for her Greystone Hall back in Chester County. “The play interestingly starts with a wedding, and I thought, ‘That’s what we do! We do weddings!’” she says. She spent several hours reviewing the show with the playwright, then returned home to begin the search for a theater company that was “ready to take on the special logistics of a play where cast and audience move in and out of rooms in a mansion,” as Moog describes it.
Enter Aldan-based Colonial Playhouse. A mutual connection set Moog and her daughter up with the playhouse’s president, Sam Barrett. “They invited me to a dinner, and I’ll go anywhere for food,” Barrett quips.
Once Moog, Barrett and Bates sat down together, everything fell into place. “[Bates] sort of did a reenactment [of the play], and it clicked with me. I got it. I saw it,” says Barrett, who coordinates the show as its director.
A schoolteacher volunteering her time to Colonial Playhouse and Greystone Mansion, Barrett’s favorite part of the show is how immersive it is. “You might hear some talking in another room, but you don’t know what’s going on. It makes it more real, just like you would feel in a house,” she describes. The biggest challenge? “There’s no real blocking,” she says. “Traditionally, you never turn your back to the audience, but sometimes you do here. Or you may sit down, and there’s an audience member sitting right on the sofa where you are.”
Moog could not be happier with her decision to work with Colonial Playhouse and its president. “Our director is unbelievable,” she says of Barrett. “I don’t think anybody else could’ve pulled this off.”
Showgoers can expect a few laughs and plenty of drama from The Manor. There’s also an intermission, during which tasty refreshments are served, including an extravagant vintage wedding cake to make guests truly feel as though they are attending a 1920s wedding reception.
The Manor runs from March 2 through March 12. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the show’s website.
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