‘Bringing a story to life’ for Halloween in Takoma Park -- Gazette.Net



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Standing on the front steps of Caroline Alderson’s house, Madame Defarge cried “Liberte!” as she celebrated Sydney Carton’s death by guillotine.

The skit based on Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” was the first of many theatrical scenes that visitors saw at the Takoma Park haunted house, which on Saturday was used for the 12th time as a stage to tell stories with what Alderson described as “a dark aspect” and “a lot of power.”

This year, as visitors — separated into groups of six — were led up the front steps to the porch, to the front hallway, to the library, to two additional rooms before leaving the house, they watched a series of skits all woven together as part of the roughly 20-minute tour complete with sets, lighting, sounds, props and elaborate costumes.

The production, titled “Visitation,” is the result of a group effort from about 40 adult and student actors and more than 12 backstage workers — both professional and amateur — from Virginia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and the Takoma Park area.

“When we start the show, the cuckoo clock starts,” said Alderson, a film writer and director, known as the production’s “mastermind.”

Kelly O’Connor of Takoma Park, who teaches English and theater at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring and is no stranger to theater acting, played the part of Helen Stoner — “a typical damsel in distress,” she said — in the skit “The Speckled Band,” based on a Sherlock Holmes tale.

In only a few minutes, O’Connor and her two co-stars acted out the dramatic scene between Stoner, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, which concludes with the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, who is bitten by a snake.

Her husband, John O’Connor, not only acted in the role of Dr. Watson, but also wrote the skit and several others based on “Dracula.”

“It’s really fun,” she said. “People are doing it because they love it.”

Meanwhile, the group of visitors is looking on only a few feet away.

Emmett Adler, 13, of Takoma Park, who thought the house was “definitely scary enough,” appreciated that he could be so close to the actors.

“You’re in it,” he said. “It’s happening right in your face.”

Celeste Lucid Wiser, an artist from Silver Spring, did the hair and makeup, including the haunting face of the grim reaper played by Hedy Sladovich of Brentwood.

“I’ve never done such a wonderful face,” said Wiser, who has participated in the production for 11 years and acted in several parts such as Miss Havisham from “Great Expectations.”

Penelope Winkler of Silver Spring toured through the house to see her daughter, Zoe Rose Waldrop, 17, act in the role of the “Woman in Black.”

“She scared me actually, and I’ve been here before,” Winkler said of Waldrop, a student at Blair.

Mark Noone of Washington, D.C., said he used to live as a tenant in the old house that is “an inch away from haunted” on a normal day.

“They were all pretty dang creepy,” said Noone, who thought it was one of the production’s best years.

Other area residents left the house with chills up their spine or an appreciation for the detail.

“It’s a nice tradition,” said Jeffrey Silverstone of Takoma Park, who saw the production with his son, Oslin, 7, and wife, Margreta. “It’s an elaborate one and not one you see everywhere.”

The program has changed slightly year to year, but has often stuck to skits with a literary basis.

For Alderson, who wrote several of the skits in this year’s production, the right stories for the program have a climatic moment that can be portrayed in a matter of minutes in the house that she described as “kind of Addams Family-ish.”

The scripts are also written to be as faithful to their sources as possible, which Alderson achieves in part through careful research.

Alderson said the aim is to make the program entertaining for kids who have never heard the stories before as well as for people familiar with them.

“It’s the thrill of bringing a story to life,” she said.

lpowers@gazette.net