“What I was is not what I am. What I am is what I will be.”
So let’s say you have an entirely crazy person on your hands, and you need to keep her in your home for an unspecified amount of time. This is a common concern for modern homeowners. According to the experts, you should keep her in a warm room with indirect light, check the top of the soil before watering, and fertilize once a month in the spring and summer. No, wait, that’s ficus trees.
Well, here’s what vampire-about-town Barnabas Collins does, once he’s taken it upon himself to immure Quentin’s crazy wife for the foreseeable. He stashes her in an upstairs bedroom, locks the door from the outside, and then goes down to the basement to sleep in a coffin, leaving a note for the comedy gypsies who serve as his unwilling housekeepers.
I’m not saying that’s the appropriate way to handle it, I’m just telling you what Barnabas does.
Oh, and he leaves the front door unlocked, because after all this time he still struggles with basic security protocol. So Quentin walks right in, and he brings his loaded revolver with him. Quentin is in a murderous mood today, because he’s been hunting for Jenny all night and he hasn’t had a wink of sleep.
In the drawing room, Quentin finds the note that Barnabas left for Magda, which says exactly where Jenny is hidden. For Quentin’s purposes, it’s basically a treasure map with a red X on Josette’s room.
I don’t know if he means it this way, but Barnabas makes life awfully easy for trespassing lunatics. He might as well leave a bowl of bullets next to the stairs, so uninvited guests can help themselves.
Quentin’s just about to open the door and exercise his Second Amendment rights, when he’s interrupted by his girlfriend Beth, who walks in the door and marches straight upstairs to Josette’s room. I guess she got a note too.
So they go downstairs together, to have a heated discussion at gunpoint. Now, I know I keep saying this, but actors, please: try to pay attention to where you’re pointing your loaded revolver. The correct answer is anywhere but your scene partner’s breadbasket.
“I’m doing it for you,” says Quentin, keeping her covered in case she starts something. “I swear I am, Beth! You know how I feel about you.”
Then she says please give me the gun, and he says no, get your own gun, and it looks like pretty soon the Republicans will be talking about absent fathers and mental health care again.
Beth points out that if she leaves, she’ll be an accomplice to murder. Quentin’s badass rejoinder: “You’ll forget that — when we’re married.” He waggles a couple of eyebrows. “I haven’t mentioned marriage before, have I?”
She turns around and walks into the drawing room, and he follows, grinning and still aiming straight at the abdomen. This is an opportune time for this conversation, in Quentin’s universe.
You know, it’s always hard to decide whether you should propose marriage before you murder your previous wife, or after. The etiquette books are undecided on this point.
Beth is still complaining about whatever, so Quentin gets frustrated and starts absently waving the gun around. At one point, he reaches up to scratch his lip with his gun hand. Honestly, actors, every goddamn time. One of these days, Stanislavski is going to get hit with a class action suit that’ll make his head spin, if it’s still attached.
Beth moans, “Oh, Quentin. If you honestly want to marry me –”
He whirls around, still brandishing, and says, “I’m not so sure I do, if this is how you’re going to act!”
Which is wonderful. Quentin is seriously just a little boy playing dress-up, isn’t he? This is a major priority for him, that his wife doesn’t get in the way of his crime sprees.
But I have to admit, Beth is being kind of a wet blanket about this. He says, “Beth, she tried to kill me!” and Beth cries, “Once, yes!” as if everybody’s allowed one practice swing.
Jenny’s still upstairs, by the way, locked up in Josette’s room. She’s been up all night, and nobody’s even thrown her a granola bar or anything. What kind of bed and breakfast is this, anyway?
Magda and Sandor finally come home, and chase Quentin and Beth out of the house. They don’t realize that Crazy Jenny is hidden upstairs, so this situation is obviously a setup for the gypsies to do a little ethnic comedy sequence, where they hear noises and they think it’s ghosts or something.
But this is Dark Shadows, which means the obvious is the one thing that they shouldn’t do. Today, they live up to that promise.
Before Barnabas locked Jenny upstairs, she showed him her locket. She ended up leaving the trinket behind, and now Magda finds it in the drawing room. She recognizes it, and gets all worked up, asking Sandor what he thinks it means.
“There’s no sense asking me questions I can’t answer,” he says. “Now, get my breakfast for me.”
She clutches Jenny’s locket, and frowns. “You don’t fool me. You can yell as loud as you want to for your food, but you care about this like I do.”
“Magda,” he says, “she is far, far away… and she is better off for it.”
“No, this is a sign,” Magda says, as the audience struggles to keep up. What the hell are they talking about?
But the gypsies do finally hear noises upstairs, and they rush to Josette’s room. I think I’m going to shut up for a minute, and let them talk.
Magda: Oh, Jenny!
Jenny: How dare you come in here! I told you never to speak to me again!
Magda: Oh, we were so worried about you, after you disappeared from Collinwood —
Jenny: Get out! Quentin is coming. You must not see him!
Sandor: Quentin is at Collinwood.
Jenny: Why? Why did he go there? Did you tell him? I told you yesterday I would KILL you both if you told him!
Sandor: That was — years ago.
Jenny: No! No, it was not! You’re trying to confuse me! It wasn’t! Where…
Jenny: Quentin and I are married. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a Collins? I am a Collins! Quentin loves ME!
Magda: Quentin… look at what he has done to you.
Jenny: Don’t you DARE talk to me like that! Don’t you say anything about Quentin — you gypsy!
Magda narrows her eyes.
Magda: You are a gypsy, too.
And then there’s that little dun! dun! music cue that they play when somebody’s just said something important. Man, I love that sound.
Jenny: What I was is not what I am. What I am is what I will be.
Magda: Jenny, Jenny!
Sandor: It won’t do no good!
Jenny: Oh, why did you ever come here? When I woke up this morning, I looked out my window, and there was your caravan! Go back where you came from!
Magda: Jenny, don’t you remember anything since then?
Jenny: My husband Quentin… where is he? He loves me so much! He won’t let anybody see me! No! He locked me up here in this room, you know!
Jenny: No — no, he didn’t, that wasn’t Quentin. Quentin loves me! He does lock me in the room, but that’s because he doesn’t want anyone to see me! No! He’s very jealous! Nobody must see me, because he’s too jealous!
Magda cries, “God… She has the devil in her! Go, get the cross! Get the cross!”
Sandor runs off, and Magda approaches the mad woman, who’s wandering off in a daze.
“Oh, Jenny,” Magda whispers. “Jenny… sister…”
Struck, Jenny turns around, pain everywhere, and she gasps. “Oh, sister…”
Then she collapses into Magda’s arms. “I should never have done it,” she sobs. “I loved him… I thought — if I couldn’t have him…”
So there you go, one of the all-time great surprise twists of the show. This is completely ridiculous and comes out of nowhere, but emotionally, it’s exactly on target — thanks to Grayson Hall, the only actress who could sell this moment.
All along, her performance as Magda has been studded with moments of real feeling — flashes of concern, and pity, and fury, and remorse. She has earned this. The comedy gypsy turns out to be the beating heart of this story.
And this is why Dark Shadows can never be remade, why it’s ridiculous to even try. Imagine if the 1991 revival had attempted this moment, with Barbara Steele all blacked up as Magda. It just wouldn’t happen.
Because in 1967, they didn’t say, hmm, we need an actress who’s going to play an ice queen blood specialist for two years, and then a wacky gypsy who’s secretly related to Quentin’s wife.
I’ve got it! they didn’t say. Let’s cast Grayson Hall!
It’s not just that they weren’t planning ahead, although obviously they weren’t. It’s that the arrow points in the other direction. They were foolish enough, and fortunate enough, to hire this insane, intense, complicated woman, and then events just unfolded.
Dark Shadows is a story that can only be told once. That isn’t a problem, or a disadvantage, because we already have the best possible version.
Oh, and then Jenny hits Magda over the head with something heavy — Pa-TWANG! — and we’re off to the races.
Monday: The Love Lives of Unhappy People.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Magda finds Beth in the Old House drawing room, a music cue begins, and then suddenly cuts off. Five seconds later, it continues.
Sandor is late delivering one of his lines, and Magda jumps ahead. She hands him the locket and says, “It was here!” and then Sandor just stands there for seven seconds, looking at it. Magda says, “It was, it was here, Sandor! What does it mean?” Halfway through her line, Sandor finally delivers his: “Impossible.”
When Jenny is talking to Magda, she gets up and says, “Run away?” Then she takes a step forward and stumbles against the bedpost.
When Magda falls to the carpet, she grabs onto her wig to make sure it doesn’t fall off.
Monday: The Love Lives of Unhappy People.
— Danny Horn