Victoria Van Bret is a tyrannical heiress and a cruel matriarch. She views her servants as mere furnishings in the house. She even goes as far as locking up her brother’s fiancée Anne in the hidden vault behind the living room wall.
It’s not easy bringing to life a bizarre family from 100 years ago, but the actors at the Scarborough Theatre Guild pulled off an amazing production of Elizabeth McFadden’s Double Door, which ran March 3-19 at the Scarborough Village Theatre.
Their persuasive acting offered a glimpse of the troubled lives of a notoriously rich family from the early 20th century.
The fictional Van Bret family is based on the Wendel family, one of the richest families in New York City at the time.
The Wendel’s were as eccentric as they were rich. Isolated from society, they lived hidden in their stone townhouse in the city’s centre. The tyrannical older brother ruled over the six sisters and strongly disapproved of marriage.
Though one sister did marry at the age of 61, none of them had any children. When the last sister died in 1931, the family fortune was given to charity.
Set in New York City in 1910, Double Door conveys the gossip that filled the era’s tabloids about the strange Wendels.
Ruth Smith transformed herself completely as Victoria in the play. Her speech, through raising her voice and emphasizing certain words, and her mannerisms evoked the early 20th century.
“I think for all of us the language was quite challenging,” Smith said. “It’s the kind of semi-formal sort of language. It’s hard to get your mouth around sometimes. But to try to make that language come to life, that was really challenging.”
Victoria is vicious, manipulative and driven by money. In the end, she takes out the pearls she’s been hiding from Anne, their rightful owner, and breaks into a loud, wailing cry of defeat while fondling them.
“I had a difficult role,” Smith said. “I’ve never done a role like this, so it was a real stretch for me.
“These people [the Van Bret family] have enormous needs and wants: they’re bigger and more important than common everyday [needs].”
Smith, who has over 46 years of experience in theatre, said to play the role, she had to understand how strong those wants were and to what lengths her character would go to get what she wanted.
“That was hard because I have never personally struggled like that in my life,” Smith laughed. “I’ve had an extremely easy life.”
But if there’s one character that carried life into the story, it’s the younger sister, Caroline, played by Ida Jagaric. Through Jagaric’s smile, audiences got to know the blithe, cheerful Caroline who seeps positivity.
Despite being in her 40s, Caroline often shows her peculiar childish frightfulness. In one scene, she suddenly starts panicking and hyperventilating, thinking Victoria will lock her up in the secret, dark vault as punishment. Charismatic comedic reliefs were well-played by Jagaric.
Every detail brought the high-class family to life, including the living room set. Crystal doorknobs, oval portraits with golden decorated rims, and the rope hanging from the ceiling that Victoria pulls to call the servants all illustrated their exquisite way of life.
The costumes were attractive: white lace and high-waisted skirts for the ladies, suits and golden pocket watches for the men.
Double Door was captivating from beginning to end.
Those who didn’t get a chance to see Double Door can look forward to Scarborough Theatre Guild’s next production, Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, which starts March 31.
Published in the Toronto Observer