“Nature puts a bar between the worlds of the living and the dead for a reason.”
The sun rises once again on the house on the hill; Collinwood wakes to a new day. Many changes have come to the house, and to those who reside therein, as the years of time have swept by.
And it has been years of time, hasn’t it? Specifically, it’s currently August 2003 and this is the Brooklyn Marriott, which may not be the time or the place you were expecting. That’s time for you, I guess; it’s sneaky that way.
This post is another installment of The War for Dark Shadows, the decades-long struggle that’s taken place after the show’s finale to define what Dark Shadows is, and find fresh perspectives. Today, we’re going to jump into a Dark Shadows Festival in full flow, and listen to the Big Beginning.
Return to Collinwood is an original audio play written for the cast members at the 2003 Dark Shadows Festival, reuniting as many characters as they could manage in order to pay tribute to the past, and gesture towards an unknown future. The play was written by Jamison Selby, from a story developed with DS Festival producer Jim Pierson. Jamison is, of course, David Selby’s son, and he’s named after Quentin’s beloved nephew, which is adorable. This gives this play some familial legitimacy that elevates it to about a centimeter above fan fiction, which is the correct altitude for this kind of endeavor.
The play was performed live as a reading during the Dark Shadows Festival, for an audience of eager and/or skeptical Dark Shadows devotees. That’s an important thing to keep in mind, as context for the story to come.
On the following day, the cast went to a Manhattan recording studio to record Return to Collinwood for posterity. The recording was released in 2004 by MPI Video, and it’s still available on Amazon and the MPI Video website.
Return to Collinwood was the first full-cast Dark Shadows audio drama, bringing together eleven of the original cast members, which was a substantial fraction of the still-living actors. Carolyn, Quentin, Maggie, Angelique and Willie are all present and correct, plus Ned Stuart and Sebastian Shaw, and some new characters with old voices.
This was a couple years before Big Finish began their series of Dark Shadows audio dramas, and the relationship between Return to Collinwood and the Big Finish plays is complex. The Big Finish audios take place in the early-to-mid 1980s, and Return to Collinwood takes place around 2003, so you could imagine that it’s the same continuity, with the Big Finish plays leading up to the state that we see in Return to Collinwood. Marie Wallace’s character Jessica Loomis was later introduced in Big Finish’s 2010 Kingdom of the Dead as Jessica Griffin, and Carolyn’s academic career studying the supernatural comes up in the Big Finish plays. But Big Finish has also introduced characters and concepts that don’t lead up to Return, because they’ve produced a lot of audios, and at a certain point you can’t keep aiming at an already-settled 2003. Personally, I don’t plan on getting worked up about it.
Obviously, because this is a soap opera, the real-world circumstances of the production outranked any creative decisions they might want to make in Return to Collinwood. A novel like Angelique’s Descent can feature Barnabas and Julia, but in the real world, Grayson Hall died in 1985 and Jonathan Frid didn’t go to Dark Shadows Festivals anymore, so those characters are off traveling in Hong Kong or someplace.
Elizabeth and Roger aren’t around either — Joan Bennett died in 1990, and Louis Edmonds in 2001 — so the story revolves around Elizabeth’s recent death, and the reading of her will. David Collins won’t be there, because David Henesy doesn’t go to Festivals either, but we’ve got Marie Wallace and Donna Wandrey fitted out with new characters to play, and you’ll never guess who’s married to Carolyn.
The story begins with a train arriving at Collinsport, which is a cute touch, even in a play constructed mainly of cute touches. And arriving on platform one, we find the eternal dreamboat Quentin Collins, his face and voice unaltered by time, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief to the appropriate extent. And Maggie Evans is here to welcome him home, to the tune of one of Bob Cobert’s old 1967 type woodwind music cues.
“Well, Mr. Quentin Collins,” she smiles, “look who’s arrived back at Collinsport once more!”
He gives her a little kiss, and says, “Hello, Maggie my dear. It seems I have a habit of arriving every so often,” which doesn’t mean anything, as far as I can figure.
But it’s a smart move to open with Quentin and Maggie, two of the friendliest and most popular living characters, to get the audience on their side right away. A few years later, Big Finish made almost exactly the same choice, starting The House of Despair with Quentin arriving in Collinsport by train, and walking straight into a welcome-home from Maggie. I would advise any young writer starting out in life to open with Maggie welcoming Quentin back to town; it’s sure-fire.
Of course, in The House of Despair, Maggie says that everyone in town is haunted and they’re surrounded by evil crows, plus there are sinister voices with British accents in the background, plotting to feast on the souls of all the characters that we like. That’s because the Big Finish people woke up in a bad mood sometime around 2005, and they’ve never quite been able to shake it. Return to Collinwood is a lot more upbeat. There isn’t a single sinister voice with a British accent in the entire play; they hadn’t even been invented yet.
So in this version, it’s all woodwinds and sweetness, and it’s gently implied that Quentin and Maggie are romantically involved. Quentin’s come back from Cuzco, where he was trying to track down young David Collins, who’s on some kind of crackpot research expedition in the Amazon jungle. David left Collinwood about ten years ago and has never come back, which is a cute nod to the fact that David Henesy doesn’t come to Dark Shadows Festivals, because he’s living in Panama and running restaurants, plus he’s afraid to come back to America just in case 16 Magazine still exists.
Anyway, it’s all extremely cute, like this for example:
Maggie: What about you? Have you found what you’re looking for?
Quentin: Well, Miss Evans, I found you, didn’t I?
Maggie: Yes, Mr. Collins, I guess you did at that. A lucky find for a rambling man like yourself.
Quentin: That is something I am dearly aware of. Also something I’m sure you’ll never forget to remind me of.
Maggie: Oh, you can bet on that.
And there isn’t a single evil crow in sight. It must be their day off.
Okay, on to the next scene, and more surprises.
Mrs. Franklin: Miss Stoddard?
Carolyn: Yes, Mrs. Franklin?
Mrs. Franklin: Mr. Stuart is here, and would like to speak with you.
Carolyn: (laughs) Well, I think it’s safe to send him in.
Mrs. Franklin is played by Donna Wandrey, who played three versions of Roxanne Drew on the show, and nobody liked any of them enough to bring one of them back for this play. So she’s the terrifying Mrs. Danvers-style housekeeper instead, and she’s fun; she loves all the Collinses, and hates everyone else. Wandrey is clearly having a wonderful time, and it’s nice to have her doing something useful for a change.
Ned: Thank you ever so much, Mrs. Franklin.
Mrs. Franklin: Of course, sir. May I take your coat?
Ned: Oh, no, I think I’ll keep it, in case — well, in case I have to rush out to do something nefarious.
Now, you remember Ned Stuart, of course. He’s the Roger Davis character who showed up for three weeks in 1969 as a mild antagonist for teen-dream werewolf Chris Jennings. Ned had one of the world’s most awkward social visits with Barnabas and Julia at Chris’ cottage, and then he had that unsettling scene with his mute, traumatized sister Sabrina, where he kept groping her in her wheelchair while she made faces to indicate that she would appreciate it if he stopped groping her.
Then the show went to 1897 for nine months, and when they came back, they decided that they didn’t really want to have Roger Davis characters anymore, so Ned just vanished, and we all agreed to stop thinking about him.
But Roger Davis goes to Dark Shadows Festivals, and his present-day character wasn’t killed off, so guess what.
Carolyn: Be nice to Mrs. Franklin.
Ned: (chuckles) Carolyn, we’ve been married for over a year, and the woman still calls you Miss Stoddard.
Yes, it’s true — in this timeline, Carolyn returned to Collinsport to take care of her sick mother, and he was Elizabeth’s lawyer, so now she’s married to Ned Stuart and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But the real surprise is that Roger Davis is really good in Return to Collinwood. His voice has aged well; it’s deeper and there’s a throaty edge to it, which suits him. Also, I think that on the recording he got closer to his mic than anybody else, so he always sounds like he’s nearer the audience.
That works, because Ned is basically the character that holds the show together. He’s not the main character — this is an ensemble piece, and the big conflict is between Quentin and Angelique — but he’s the responsible adult who moves everyone from one scene to another. For the first half of the show, all information flows through him; nothing really counts until you tell Ned about it. He fades into the background in the second half, once the spooky storylines kick in, but then he returns at the end to run the big will reading scene.
And believe it or not, right in his first scene, he nails all three of the crucial steps to making a character likeable: he’s got a friend, he makes jokes, and he understands where all the opening plot points are. It turns out that when you give Roger Davis a character that doesn’t shout and smirk and clutch his head all the time, he can be appealing.
At this point, there’s a little blooper, just to make sure that we all know this is Dark Shadows.
Defending Mrs. Franklin’s coolness toward Ned, Carolyn says that “old Mrs. Johnson trained her for the job, and she called me Miss Stoddard since I was born.”
This was quite a dangerous thing to do in front of an audience of devoted Dark Shadows fans. I can easily imagine someone standing up and yelling, “But Mrs. Johnson was hired at Collinwood in episode 81, and Carolyn was a young adult by that time!” I can even imagine that person being me. It’s probably a lucky break for everyone that I wasn’t there.
Ned’s big joke for the whole play is that he thinks Mrs. Franklin hates him, which she does. Carolyn says that Mrs. Franklin is just being protective, but Ned says that the housekeeper is crazy, which she is. But if people at Collinwood were good at diagnosing incipient insanity, this would be a very different show.
So they settle in for some exposition about the current state of the family. David’s been exploring and hasn’t been home in ten years; he missed Roger’s funeral, and Carolyn doesn’t know if he even got the telegram about Elizabeth’s death.
Then they talk about the seance they’re planning, which is a perplexing idea. Apparently, Elizabeth specified that after her death, she wanted to gather a bunch of people to Collinwood for a seance, which is scheduled for tomorrow night. Then they’re going to read the will, several days later. It must be a while since Elizabeth died, because Carolyn’s having a cheerful conversation with her husband, and Quentin went all the way to Peru to bring David home for the will reading, so this is probably two or three months after Elizabeth’s death.
The weird thing about this idea is that Elizabeth had plenty of time to plan all of this, and she wrote down what we will later find out is a nine-minute-long will, where she says everything that she needs to say. So why would she also want to get called back for a seance, three days before the will reading?
It turns out later that there actually is an explanation for this that makes at least a modicum of sense, but it’s odd that nobody asks that question; they just treat it like a sensible final request. But Jamison Selby wants a big seance scene halfway through the show, and we’re going to have one, and that’s all there is to it.
“In my research, I’ve attended dozens of seances,” Carolyn says, “but this will be the first one held in Collinwood for ages.” Carolyn apparently has a graduate degree in seanceology.
Then there’s the sound of a jukebox playing one of Bob Cobert’s Blue Whale specials, and the record is skipping. Willie Loomis grumbles and pounds on the machinery, which is always helpful with record players. Then there’s an off-mic voice shouting from the distance.
Willie: Oh, boy.
Willie: (calling) Yes, Jessie, my sweet love goddess of happiness and joy!
And in she comes, carrying a sound effect of a beer keg banging on the floor: Marie Wallace, impeccably cast as a tough old broad.
Jessica: Either your hearing is on its way out, or you’re just trying to avoid heavy lifting.
Willie: Heavy lifting is something I think best to avoid if possible.
Jessica: Lucky for you, there are five more beer kegs in the cellar you need to bring up before the rush.
I don’t actually understand that exchange, but I suppose that’s all part of the Marie Wallace experience.
So here they are, our official comedy relief characters: Willie and Jessica Loomis, a happy, teasing-squabbling couple who live in the Old House and own the Blue Whale, and if you can think of a more appropriate fate for Willie, then you’re welcome to it. This one works fine.
Jessica: You still tryin’ to fix that new jukebox?
Willie: I paid good money for it on eBay. It’ll be great for the happy hour crowd. People like jukeboxes.
Jessica: Then you shouldn’t’ve broken the old one.
Willie: It stole my quarter. Now, think about it: Friday night, karaoke at the Blue Whale. It’ll be a hit.
Jessica: (chuckles) You’re lucky you’re cute.
They’re both cute, really, which is lucky for all of us. There is not a single thing wrong with the Willie/Jessica scenes.
Of course, to get the full effect, you need to look at the pictures of the Festival performance. David Selby’s got a nice jacket on, Roger Davis and Chris Pennock have button-down shirts and slacks, and then there’s John Karlen, in a rumpled khaki shirt over an undershirt that’s half-tucked into his khaki shorts. He kind of leans on one leg, with one hand holding the script, and the other hand either in his pocket or on his hip. He’s the only one in the room that won an Emmy Award, and everybody adores him, so he has nothing to prove and he knows it. Screw Ned Stuart and his tucked-in shirt.
Jessica: Hey, you heard any more from that Collins clan today?
Willie: Yeah, Ned called me this morning, to remind me to be on time for the gathering tomorrow night.
Jessica: The seance?
Jessica: Those Collinses are a ster-range bunch.
These early scenes are good soap opera construction, getting pairs of characters together to all chew over the same bit of information, so you get everybody’s point of view. Jessica’s putting out some strange line reads, emphasizing words that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, but you don’t hire Marie Wallace for theatrical realism; you get her for personality and volume.
Then Willie sums up the whole purpose of this endeavor:
Willie: Oh, c’mon now, they got their reasons. They’ve been good to me. I wouldn’t own this bar without Roger and Elizabeth’s help. We wouldn’t be living up in the Old House without their good will. Damn, Elizabeth was a strong woman. She had a good, long life. I’m sorry to see her go.
And that is the engine of this play. More than any other Dark Shadows spinoff, Return to Collinwood is explicitly an exercise in nostalgia.
On the TV series, Willie’s relationship with Roger and Elizabeth was prickly at best; I’m not sure they even had a scene together after 1967. But now we’re invited to imagine a quieter post-1971 world, where these characters grew older together, bonding over shared adventures and tragedies, and ultimately coming to respect and care about each other.
Return to Collinwood is a sentimental show at its heart, which makes sure that everyone who isn’t a villain is happily paired off from the start, and stays that way. Quentin and Maggie, Ned and Carolyn, Willie and Jessica… even Barnabas and Julia are still together, somewhere in the jungles of Hong Kong. Roger and Elizabeth had natural, peaceful deaths, and the only real regret is that David Henesy is running a successful restaurant business and doesn’t want to come to Dark Shadows Festivals.
The one bit of tension introduced in this scene is that Willie’s spent years fixing up the Old House with electricity, plumbing and a finished basement, and Jessica warns him that maybe they’ll discover that Elizabeth has left the house to somebody else, and they’ll have to move.
There’s no real menace or danger in the entire play, barring a couple of brief tussles that end with someone getting knocked unconscious. The scary moments are mostly about real estate.
Quentin and Maggie arrive at Collinwood, where Ned is on the spot and ready to have a friendly soap opera chat about things in general. They talk about Quentin’s failure to find David, and how Carolyn is feeling about everything. This establishes that Ned is accepted by all the characters that we like; now all we need is for Willie to say damn, Ned Stuart was a strong woman.
Mrs. Franklin is thrilled to see that Quentin has returned, and she gives him a warm welcome. This establishes that Mrs. Franklin is a toxic hellbeast who wants to see Ned’s head on a spike. I’m not sure how that works; it appears to be a rule that only applies to Mrs. Franklin.
Ned: Well, we don’t want to be late for Mrs. Franklin’s dinner. She may take it as an insult, and poison me.
Maggie: If it’s any consolation, Ned, I don’t think she likes me any better than you.
Quentin: Stop picking on Mrs. Franklin.
Maggie: Easy for you to say!
Ned: She approves of you!
Quentin: All things in time. Come on, Ned, let’s wrestle these beasts up the stairs.
Ned, ruefully: This house needs an elevator.
So that’s the level of cuteness we’re dealing with around here.
But we can’t have all smiles, so it must be time to introduce a super scary villain, and guess who it is, it’s Angelique!
Carolyn is painting up in the tower room, which is a thing that she does now, and there’s a snatch of “Ode to Angelique” on piano, and then we hear Angelique’s voice with reverb saying “Car-olyn…” Carolyn doesn’t know who’s talking to her. Then she hears it again: “Car-olynnn…” And then the reverb fades away and Lara Parker goes and sits down.
Maggie comes upstairs to say hi to Carolyn and tell her that Quentin’s back, and since this is a soap opera, Carolyn drops what she’s doing and wants to talk about relationships.
Carolyn: You’re always so hush-hush about you and Quentin, and you’ve been together for over a year.
Maggie: We’re moving slowly — you know, he’s the first real relationship I’ve had since Joe died.
Carolyn: That was almost ten years ago.
Maggie: I know. It takes a long time to get over the loss of a loved one.
Carolyn: Yes. It does.
And here’s where I can give you a little anecdote about the performance. A fan with the handle Wilusa posted a review of the 2003 Festival on her website, where she writes:
“Puzzling and unpleasant: when Maggie said, quite seriously, that Quentin was the first man she’d cared for in I-forget-how-many years since Joe Haskell’s death, many fans laughed. Coming when they did, the laughs implied they thought the idea of Joe’s being dead was funny. The actors looked as startled as I was.”
Now, I wasn’t there, but getting a laugh at that moment actually makes sense to me. Everyone in the audience was aware that Joel Crothers had died in 1985, so nobody expected Joe to show up in the play. Maggie mentioning that she and Joe finally got together after the show ended is a bit of nostalgic fanservice that everyone in the audience would enjoy. So that was a laugh of surprised recognition, rather than a laugh at the expense of the character and actor. Probably. Or maybe people are just weird sometimes.
Then Maggie notices the picture that Carolyn’s painting, and she gets all worked up about it. It’s the portrait of a woman, who Maggie says is stunning. She asks who Carolyn based the painting on, and Carolyn says that it’s not anyone in particular, but obviously we all know who it is, because we just heard her speak a couple minutes ago. Just to make sure we get it, Carolyn says that she reminds her of the portrait that Vicki once found in an antique shop.
Carolyn: I wasn’t even painting a portrait when I started this canvas. I was going to paint those elm trees, out the window along the drive. Something about the colors must have hit a chord in my memory. I didn’t realize I’d stopped painting the trees. I just switched to painting… her, instead.
Maggie: The blonde hair… There’s something about her eyes. That cold blue…
So yes okay fine, she’s painting a picture of Angelique, who is influencing her from beyond the grave. Maggie tells Carolyn that she should come down for dinner, and makes another joke about how scary Mrs. Franklin is, and then Maggie leaves, and there’s more “Ode to Angelique” and spooky reverb talk.
Angelique: You can’t trust her. (trust her, trust her) She’ll try and stop you. (stop you, stop you)
Carolyn: I won’t let her…
Angelique: They all want you to fail. (want you to fail, want you to fail) You will stop them. (stop them, stop them)
Carolyn: I will stop them…
Angelique: If they try, (try, try) you will destroy them. (destroy them, destroy them)
Carolyn: I will destroy them.
Angelique: Do you love me? (love me, love me)
This goes on for longer than it should.
Then there’s another cute Quentin/Ned banter scene in Quentin’s room, where Quentin slips and says that the Boy Scouts didn’t exist when he was a child, which establishes that people don’t know that he’s immortal.
They talk about the seance, and how Carolyn is handling her grief, and then Maggie comes in and talks about the portrait that Carolyn’s painting, and Ned is surprised because Carolyn only paints landscapes, and other assorted material from the soap opera information management system.
Ned leaves with yet another joke about how scary Mrs. Franklin is, and then Maggie for absolutely no reason says, “I love this old Victrola,” and she turns it on, and it plays “Shadows of the Night”. Quentin is lost in thought, and then he says, “I haven’t heard that music in a long time.” The nostalgia is strong with this one.
At this point, the Loomises get another turn, with Willie on mic and Jessica calling from offstage.
Willie: Okay, try it again!
Willie: Turn the water back on!
Jessica: It’s on!
Willie: No, it’s not!
Willie: It’s not on!
Jessica: Are the pipes locked?
Willie: Yes, the pipes are locked.
Willie: Yes, the pipes are locked! They can’t be any more locked!
Jessica: Okay, I’m turning on the water!
Willie: I thought you said it was already on!
And so forth. The pipe bursts, and Willie gets all wet, and after the show everyone talks about how funny John Karlen and Marie Wallace were.
The Collinwood couples have a nice dinner, and there’s more Mrs. Franklin jokes, and then Carolyn and Ned go upstairs to bed.
Quentin and Maggie stay in the dining room to feed us some more exposition about what she’s been up to lately. She’s head of administration at the Windcliff Sanitarium, the institiution where she was admitted as a patient, twice. Quentin calls her “Nurse Maggie”, and she says that she has to walk rounds for the late shift.
Bungled astrologer Sebastian Shaw is a patient at Windcliff now, following some unexplained trauma; he’s been catatonic for years, and hasn’t spoken a word. Maggie is grateful for his kindness during her second recovery, and now she visits him and reads to him.
The other bit of setup is that Maggie talks about how young Quentin looks, to establish that he hasn’t shared his secrets with her.
We go back to the Old House, where Willie’s breaking through a wall in the drawing room to see if there’s a blockage in the pipes. Opening things up, Willie finds a package hidden behind the wall, with an envelope that’s addressed to him. This is a strange plot point that just kind of dangles for a while as they go and do other things, and when it pops up again, it doesn’t make very much sense. Still, Willie and Jessica.
Then there’s a solo scene at Windcliff, with Maggie talking to the comatose Sebastian for a little while. “You look well,” she says. “You’ve got some color today. Hmm. Your charts just don’t change much, do they?”
Now, at this point, we’re about thirty minutes into the play, and some might say this is too much setup, and by now we deserve another plot point.
We kind of get one when Maggie exits, and we hear Angelique’s voice again. “Wake up, Sebastian!” she calls. “No more dreams. It’s time to come home.”
“Home…” Sebastian groans.
“That’s right,” says the spirit. “There’s much to be done.”
And that’ll have to do for the next twelve minutes or so.
Next, we go live to Carolyn Stuart, screaming as she wakes from a nightmare about a woman getting shot by an unheralded pronoun. “She looked right through me,” Carolyn sobs. “I could feel her, like she was right in the room, she was right here!”
“Hey, easy, honey, easy now,” reassures Ned, with the microphone halfway in his mouth, so that it seems like he’s actually speaking directly inside your head. But he’s being supportive and good-natured; disappearing from the show for thirty-four years has done this guy a world of good.
She apologizes, and he chuckles, “Don’t be sorry. Just try not to scream in your sleep if you can help it, okay?” I can’t believe I’m shipping Carolyn and Ned to the extent that I currently am.
Finally, it’s time for the big seance halftime show, which brings together our three adorable couples. Technically, Quentin’s had more experience with seances than Carolyn — some of it from the other side of the veil — but she’s got the book learning, so she’s in charge.
“Three candles,” she explains, as the guests settle into their places. “Two white, one violet. Purity and spirit. Three is a potent number — the triangle. The six of us form two triangles around the table. It helps to focus the energy.” I mean, you have to say something.
Carolyn asks Quentin to pass the candles around the circle, and then says, “As you touch the candles, relax. Let the outside world slip away.” This is terrible advice to give to somebody who’s holding candles.
Carolyn falters for a moment, but insists that they move ahead; it’s important that they do this seance at this specific time. Quentin asks why, and Carolyn admits that she doesn’t know; Elizabeth wanted it this way.
“Awakening the dead is not an action to be taken lightly,” Quentin says. “Nature puts a bar between the worlds of the living and the dead for a reason.” That’s not a bad place for a bar, actually; you’d get a lot of foot traffic.
So they get into it, laying bare the path, opening the door, and asking Elizabeth to come through. Jessica and Maggie feel a chill, naturally; you can’t get anywhere with a seance until somebody feels a chill. The Leviathan snake-clarinet cue fades in, as they get into a spooky rhythm.
Carolyn: Think of her. Think of her beauty. Ask her to come to us. Speak with me. We must speak with one voice.
Maggie: Come to us…
Carolyn: Come to us!
Maggie and Jessica: Come to us…
Carolyn: All of you must speak!
Everybody: Come to us! Come to us! Come to us!
Carolyn: We open the door! Come to us!
Everybody: Come to us!
Carolyn: Think of her grace! Think of her power!
Everybody: Come to us!
Carolyn: We invite you here! This is your home! Come to us!
Everybody: Come to us!
Then they transition into the “Angelique spook” music cue.
Carolyn: Think of the lady! The mistress!
Everybody: Come to us!
Carolyn: Think of her eyes! Blue as the sky!
Everybody: Come to us!
There are a few more chants of come to us, but you get the idea. They want her to come to us, and that’s exactly what happens.
Quentin realizes what’s going on, and tries to stop Carolyn, but she insists, “Think of her! She was betrayed! We invite her — I invite her!”
And then you hear Angelique’s laughter, and the witch is screaming, “Too late! The door opens! I am come! My chains are broken! I have returned!” She’s coming to us, is what she’s saying.
Quentin tries to reason with her: “Begone! You are not wanted here!”
“Where else, my love?” the witch shouts, from somewhere in the upper atmosphere. “I am home!” And then Carolyn screams and collapses.
So that was fun. When we come back from what I presume was the act break, it’s two days later, and Carolyn’s just woken up from a 48-hour nap. She asks Ned to call her old university professor, Dr. Robert Harper, who’s played by James Storm.
Harper is another good-natured character who’s concerned about Carolyn, and we already have plenty of those, but these people spend their whole day gossiping about each other, and bringing in another character adds a little variety.
“Carolyn was my best student,” he tells Ned. “She’s run the parapsychology department at the University of Maine for the last ten years.” Ned already knows this. “She’s extremely well versed in the various dangers involved in a seance. I can’t imagine she’d let things get out of control.” Harper has opinions about seance predictability.
Harper doesn’t sound much like Gerard, really, and he doesn’t get any Gerard-esque stuff to do, which feels like a wasted opportunity. If James Storm’s voice has changed over the years so he doesn’t sound like Gerard anymore, then that’s a thing that happens, but it means that this part really only works when you can see him on stage performing it. On audio, he could basically be anybody.
He has a scene with Ned where they talk about the seance, and then he has a scene with Carolyn where they talk about the seance. She says that her memory of the seance is hazy, so it’s a good thing we have a bunch of people hanging around with nothing to do except discuss it at length. She mentions that she’s been painting, and Harper says that he’d like to see her paintings, so Maggie and Quentin take him upstairs to the tower room, end of another scene.
Footsteps, climbing up the stairs.
Quentin: The tower room is the highest point of the house. You can see for miles from there, from the ocean to the mountains. The painters in the family have always used this room for the view, and the light.
Maggie: Whew! I didn’t think anyone had been up here in years, before Carolyn opened it up again.
Quentin: There hadn’t been too many painters in the family recently. Here we are.
Door-opening sound effect. More footsteps.
Harper: My… you’re right! The view! Wow!
Maggie: And all of these paintings!
Quentin: A lot of them have just been stored up here. I know we should get around to framing them properly. These are the collected works of a number of generations of the Collins clan.
So you have to wonder if people in the audience were getting a little fidgety by this point. Yes, we’re watching David Selby and James Storm on stage together, which is cool, but by this point, it seems like this play is mostly just nice people being friendly to each other.
The story so far is that Mrs. Franklin doesn’t like Ned, Willie found a package hidden in the wall, and Carolyn apparently opened the door to Angelique, to no material effect. Now they’re talking about the view. Jamison Selby apparently figured that the audience likes these characters, and likes the cast, and what we want is just to see them pleasantly interact with each other for an hour and a half.
If this was a Big Finish production, there would be at least two serial killers involved by now. One of them would be a voice in somebody’s head, saying that it won’t leave them alone until they kill somebody they love. The other would probably be twirling a knife around and talking about how great it is to see the light die in a victim’s eyes.
Naturally, what we really want is a werewolf attacking Addison Powell, but nobody ever thinks of the obvious, and now it’s too late.
Anyway, they find the portrait that Carolyn was working on, and they have a conversation about how beautiful and intriguing it is.
Harper: I wonder who she is.
Quentin: Who she was.
Harper: I’m sorry?
Quentin: She’s part of a history of this house, this family. She died a long time ago.
Maggie: Who was she, then?
Quentin: Her name was Angelique… Angelique Bouchard.
Which we already knew. This is what happens when you only have one surprise planned for your whole play and we figured it out during scene 5.
Finally, we get the action sequence that we’ve been waiting for, and it features Marie Wallace, which is the correct answer.
There’s a bunch of knocks on the Old House door, and when Jessica opens it, she finds a madman on the porch.
Jessica: Hey there.
Jessica: Ya got a thing for knockin’ on doors?
Sebastian: I like the sound. Metal on metal!
Jessica: Oh-kayy. That’s fantastic. How can I help you?
Sebastian: I need something.
Jessica: You and me both.
It’s honestly not a great part for Chris Pennock, which is a shame, because he’s practically the only guy in the show who doesn’t spend most of his time talking about whether Carolyn is tired or not. He’s playing the hypnotized manservant, mostly just shouting short sentences, and he could have done more than this. I think this play could have been better if there was a team-up of Angelique, Gerard and Jeb Hawkes, battling the nice people at Collinwood, but look at me, trying to write fan fiction based on other people’s fan fiction.
Jessica: Are you selling something? Who are you?
Sebastian: I am the arm of the mistress!
Sebastian: I am the sword she wields!
Jessica: Yeah. Time for you to go.
But if you’re finally going to menace somebody, then yes, make it Jessica, who brings the appropriate amount of sarcasm and sass.
Sebastian: You have something I need.
Jessica: Hey! Hey, let go of the door!
They throw on a big Cobert action cue, all pounding kettle drums and brass and trilling violins.
Sebastian: She sees everything!
Jessica: Let go of me!
Sebastian: She will not be DENIED!
And then she gives a long, strangled scream, and that is all of the action that there is today.
Next up, there’s a scene with Harper and Quentin talking about Angelique, who Harper’s been reading up on. Quentin identified the portrait that Carolyn was painting, so now Harper’s been reading old diaries or whatever. There’s always a stack of old diaries around for some reason. We usually see the residents of Collinwood in their more hectic moments; when we’re not around, they must be journaling like mad. I guess Julia and Stokes didn’t leave any notes or bookmarks or underlined passages the last time they went through the pile, so Harper needs to read them all over again.
Maggie rushes in with the stop-press news that Sebastian is missing from Windcliff, and the scene starts to spiral in on itself.
Quentin: I thought he was catatonic!
Maggie: Nearly. No one knows what happened yet, it was just reported. I’ve got to get over there. I’ll see you tonight!
Harper: Another unexplained event?
Quentin: We’ll find out soon enough.
Ned (offstage): Quentin?
Quentin: We’re in the study, Ned!
Harper: Is it always this busy in this house?
Quentin: Not always, but it does have its moments.
Ned: Maggie just passed me at a dead run. What’s going on?
Quentin: Something up at Windcliff. A missing patient.
Quentin: Sebastian Shaw.
Ned: I didn’t think he could move, much less walk out of Windcliff.
Quentin: Neither did anyone else, it seems.
So that’s two people doing the same “I thought he was catatonic” line within thirty seconds of each other. They don’t dare risk a third time, so they go back to the old standby: whether Carolyn is tired or not.
Harper: How’s Carolyn this morning?
Ned: She’s up and about. Says she feels great. She’ll be right down.
Mrs. Franklin: Excuse me, gentlemen.
Ned: Mrs. Franklin. You do have a way of sneaking up on people.
Mrs. Franklin: Yes, sir. There’s a visitor requesting Miss Stoddard. I think perhaps you all may want to see her.
Quentin: Who is it?
Mrs. Franklin: Family, Mr. Collins. She’s waiting in the drawing room.
Quentin: Oh, how I do love unexpected visits from family.
Harper: It really is just one thing after another around here, isn’t it?
Quentin: You have no idea, doctor.
And that makes two times they do the “it’s busy around here / it has its moments” joke in less than a minute. I wonder if Mrs. Franklin thought Sebastian was catatonic?
But never mind that, we’re onto a brand new scene where Angelique walks in and says, “Hello, boys! It’s been ages.” That’s what people used to say in this situation, before River Song came along.
Ned tries to ask who she is, but she ignores him.
Angelique: What’s the matter, Quentin? Cat got your tongue?
Quentin: No. The last cat that tried that got put out for the night.
Angelique: Oooh. A long, cold night, I imagine.
And similar banter. Everybody tries to ask what her name is, but she dodges the question for way longer than you’d think. Finally, Carolyn walks in and says, “Oh, my god. Cassandra?”
That’s essentially the entire plot of the show, ta-dah. Angelique hypnotized Carolyn from beyond the borderline of death to welcome her back with a noisy bit of candle culture, so that she could walk into the house a few days later and pretend to be the person that she was pretending to be thirty-five years ago. She’s not wearing the black wig this time; she says that she decided to go blonde instead, which means that she looks exactly like the portrait that Carolyn was painting, which nobody notices.
“Cassandra” says that she got a summons from Elizabeth to come for the will reading — and it turns out that Liz does leave something to her in the will, so I guess her invite got sent out on the sub-ether wave band to the afterlife, and points south.
So Angelique — who was dead, for some reason — manipulated everyone into bringing her back to life, so that she could come to a party that she was already invited to. Return to Collinwood!
Finally, someone comes running into the room — Ned, probably, it’s usually Ned — and announces that Willie just called from the hospital, Jessica’s been attacked, and also Jessica is fine.
I mean, they don’t say it exactly like that. Ned says she’s been attacked, and then Quentin goes to the hospital, and then Willie says that she’s fine. She hit her head and blacked out, and they’re going to hold her for observation tonight, but she’s fine. The whole hospital sequence is fifty-one seconds long, and ends with Quentin and Willie going to the Blue Whale for a drink.
Maybe Big Finish could have had the cojones to kill Willie’s wife, I’m going to say halfway through part eight of a thirteen-part serial, but this play is too sentimental to kill anyone, or even put them in the hospital for more than fifty-one seconds. After all, they might want to do another play at the next Dark Shadows Festival, and Jamison Selby would have to come up with another part for Marie Wallace. You can’t expect people to keep creating Marie Wallace characters every year. It’s not a scaleable business model.
Meanwhile, Dr. Harper says, “I’ve been assembling notes analyzing the progression of the seance,” which just goes to show you how out of touch Dr. Harper is with the major concerns of the day.
It turns out that Elizabeth’s will was dictated and typed, but the instructions for the seance were written out by hand. Harper was Carolyn’s faculty advisor, so he recognizes her handwriting, which is apparently something that Carolyn was unable to do herself. Ned didn’t catch that detail either, and he is both Carolyn’s husband and the person specifically tasked with making sure Liz’s instructions were carried out.
So no, Elizabeth didn’t request that everybody come over for a batty pre-will seance after all; that was Angelique, influencing Carolyn through the medium of pretending to be elm trees. This realization does not advance the plot at all; in fact, it pretty much ties everything up. But Carolyn and Harper are determined to pretend that this is an active plot point.
Carolyn: You think another entity was acting through me.
Harper: I do.
Carolyn: It would fit the symptoms.
Harper: Yes, it would.
Carolyn: If I were fully possessed by a spirit entity, it could still be acting through me.
Harper: That is also a possibility.
Carolyn: What now?
Harper: (avuncular chuckle) The old fallback of the scholar. We read. If you were possessed, we need to know the identity of the agent in question. Once we’ve discovered that, we can determine the best path to move forward.
But we already know the identity of the agent in question, it’s Angelique, and she’s upstairs right now, so this plotline is over and they refuse to admit it.
Meanwhile, Angelique is upstairs flirting with Quentin, which is exactly what I would do if I were the agent in question.
She looks around his room, and says, “It’s been so long since I spent good quality time here.”
“It has,” Quentin agrees. “Memory has that ability, to make things so much more pleasant than they actually were.” This is basically the mission statement of Return to Collinwood.
Then Angelique says the following interesting things:
Well, it’s my home too.
I have been denied and abused by this family. I have dwelt in the dark long enough. I have shed my blood into the soil of Collinwood and I have every right to claim it as my own.
Roger’s son has vanished. Carolyn is fragile. The family fortune lies in your hands. But the secrets you hide…
Your life is hidden from these people, and they are dust and will soon pass from this world. You and I hold the future before us. Collinwood is ours for the taking, ours alone.
You have loved me before. You will love me again.
I know what you keep hidden, Quentin Collins. I know the full moon still quickens the beating of your heart. I can expose you as a monster. Do you think your little friends will stand by you then?
I have something of yours. Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon enough.
Then she walks out the door, and there’s the sound of Quentin crushing a glass in his hand. This is why it’s good to have Angelique around; she’s got enough backstory to come back and seek revenge as many times as you like. I’m not even sure what she’s angry about this time; it’s usually just revenge for whatever happened to her the last time she came back to seek revenge.
Then there’s a scene that appears to be designed to get on my nerves.
Carolyn: What’s that?
Harper: It’s a record of the births and deaths at Collinwood in the 1840s. It describes the murder of Angelique Bouchard; she was shot to death just as the sun started to fall behind the horizon.
Carolyn: We began the seance at 8pm.
Harper: Just as darkness fell. This is the diary of Josette DuPres. She notes that Angelique Bouchard was born on the last day of the month of August.
Carolyn: The day we held the seance!
Carolyn: A coincidence?
Harper: Possibly. I don’t trust coincidences, though. They’re a convenient way to dismiss something that we don’t yet understand.
Carolyn: What now?
Harper: Now I keep reading, and you… go relax.
Carolyn: (laughs) Okay! I will do that.
So, I mean, what can you even do with that? Angelique didn’t die in the 1840s, her name was Angelique Collins when she died, she didn’t die from the shoulder wound, there’s no way for Josette to know Angelique’s birthday, there’s no reason why the seance should be held on Angelique’s birthday at the exact time that she died, they’re telling Carolyn to go back to bed again, and Angelique is already in the house and flirting with Quentin.
Next up: Willie tells Quentin that Jessica is back at home and still fine, which is nice to know. The police did a sketch of her attacker, which is Sebastian Shaw, and they also pulled some fingerprints off the doorknob, and it’s Sebastian Shaw. So if Sebastian Shaw ever decides to come down to the Collinsport police station and give himself up, they’ll have maybe a sixty percent chance of closing the case.
And hey, remember half an hour ago, when Willie found a package sealed up in the wall that was addressed to him? Well, it was Quentin’s portrait, and the note was from Barnabas.
Willie: He must have hidden it there, before he and Julia left Collinwood. I tried to reach them in Hong Kong, but they’re off on some spiritual retreat to the mountains. I thought Barnabas might come back for the reading of the will, but you know he doesn’t like to fly. They take boats everywhere.
That’s the first time they’ve mentioned Barnabas and Julia in the play, so it’s nice to check that box. Quentin reads the note that Barnabas left, and it’s suitably sentimental.
“Willie, my friend, you have done me great service over the years. You have stood with me when you had many reasons to stand against me. I ask you to assist me one more time.”
You see? It’s cute. Everybody likes everybody in this show.
“Keep it safe, Willie. It is a powerful thing. Its destruction would bring great harm into the world. Be well, old friend.”
Now, why Barnabas couldn’t have just handed this to Willie instead of hiding it in the wall, I have no idea. Or he could have given it to Quentin himself, or hidden it in Quentin’s wall. Also, where was Willie when Barnabas was going around knocking holes in the wall and plastering them up? Still, it’s a nice note.
The portrait’s not there anymore, natch, because Sebastian took it; that’s why he knocked Jessica over during his home invasion. Quentin knows that Sebastian stole it on Angelique’s behalf, and he’s already figured out where she hid it, and he wants Willie to go and get it. Willie doesn’t say, “Well, why do I always get hooked up with these spook details?” like Kelton in Plan Nine from Outer Space, but I bet he’s thinking it.
Meanwhile, Carolyn and Harper are still in the study, going through old documents.
Ned: Hello, darling. How goes the research?
Carolyn: Slowly. Our family has managed to collect an entire library full of personal journals and papers. War records, correspondence, diaries, legal documents. It’s just a lot to sift through.
Harper: The trick is to locate the needle in the haystack without the use of a metal detector.
Ned: And what exactly are you trying to find?
Harper: Anything that can give us a clearer picture of the mysterious Angelique Bouchard.
Ned: I’m afraid I don’t understand.
Carolyn: She’s linked to what happened at the seance, somehow.
Harper: We need to know more about her.
But, do we? says the audience, shifting uneasily in their Brooklyn Marriott folding chairs, idly wondering if they really should have spent all that money on Barnabas T-shirts and old Paperback Library gothics.
I mean, they’ve already found out a lot about Angelique, if you count the wrong birthday, the wrong time of death, and the wrong cause of death, and it hasn’t made them any happier. What do they think they need to find? And why on earth are they looking at war records?
And then they do this:
Harper: Look at this sketch. It was drawn by Josette DuPres. It looks very similar to your painting, Carolyn.
Carolyn: You think so?
Yes! Obviously, it looks like the painting! You’re aware of that! The only reason that you’re looking through documents for information about Angelique in the first place is that Quentin recognized the painting, and said she was named Angelique! How is it possible that you’re still treating this like a mystery?
Harper: Actually… that hair. You know, it looks a bit like —
Ned: Dr. Harper?
And then “Cassandra” walks in, claiming that she forgot where the dining room is. They give her directions, and she says:
Angelique: Well, I’ll leave you to it. Dr. Harper seems so engrossed in his work. I wouldn’t want him to lose his place. (door closes)
Ned: Dr. Harper?
Carolyn: The sketch reminded you of something?
Harper: It did? Yes! That’s right, it did… That’s odd. It’s gone completely out of my mind.
But the thing that Angelique just cast a spell to make him forget is the simple observation that “Cassandra” looks like the portrait that Carolyn was painting, which everyone should have recognized when she walked in.
The problem is that they’ve been following the soap opera structure of doing a thing and then everybody talks about it for a while, but they’ve forgotten that soap operas need to have more than one storyline. So far, everything in the play has revolved around Angelique, and we now understand her secret plan in every respect: how she was brought back, what she wants, the seance, Sebastian stealing Quentin’s portrait. They need a separate storyline that they can cut to, so that they don’t have to keep hammering on the same basic facts.
But then they do a nice scene about Quentin and Angelique having a romantic dinner for two in the Collinwood drawing room, bantering about lycanthropy and sorcery, and making toasts to old friends and future possibilities. It’s a nice scene that’s worth hearing, and if I wasn’t sick of writing about this play by now, then I would probably want to tell you more about it.
Meanwhile, Maggie stops by looking for a free meal, and Mrs. Franklin tells her that there’s a romantic dinner going on, and Maggie should peek through the door and see who it is.
“Don’t they make a lovely couple?” the housekeeper says, as Maggie sees her boyfriend eating with the new houseguest.
Maggie: What’s going on?
Mrs. Franklin: Quentin and Cassandra are the future of this place!
Maggie: Excuse me?
Mrs. Franklin: They are Collins. They belong here. This is their home! You don’t belong here.
Mrs. Franklin: You’ll never be a Collins. You should leave this place.
Maggie: Why are you saying this?
Mrs. Franklin: You’ve lost him! You mean nothing to him. You are nothing. Run away.
Maggie: But — wh- why?
Mrs. Franklin: Aww… That’s right, cry! Cry, and run, like the stupid little girl you are. Get out!
Maggie cries and runs, and Mrs. Franklin smirks, “All for you, m’lady… all for you.”
So that’s a nice moment, weird and dramatic and surprising. It’s still Angelique related, but I have to give them credit for this.
Meanwhile, Willie’s grumbling his way through the graveyard for a couple of scenes. He finally reaches the Collins mausoleum, diving into the show’s past once again as he pulls the ring in the lion’s mouth, and enters the secret room. He looks around for way longer than you’d think — apparently the room is bigger on audio — and he finds Quentin’s portrait.
Then he spots someone lurking in the darkness, who shouts, “The lady doesn’t want you here!”
“She doesn’t, does she?” Willie shudders, determined to be today’s comic relief character. “Well, sure, that’s understandable. I don’t want to be here, either!”
“You offend the mistress!” Sebastian growls, as he approaches.
“Well, that’s a shame,” Willie says. “I’m sorry about that. I don’t mean to offend.” Then Willie says, “Hey, look, who are you?” which makes me want to hit somebody. Someone needs to tell Jamison Selby a couple home truths about not letting your audience get six steps ahead of everyone in the cast.
Sebastian and Willie have a fist fight, and Willie wins, because Sebastian’s been catatonic for years and is probably not in very good shape.
Back to the dining room, where Angelique is making a sales pitch to Quentin about how special the two of them are, and why he should join with her and rule Collinwood forever. Quentin says that she makes a persuasive argument, and then Willie butts in and sits down at the table.
“William!” Angelique cries, which is very Miss Piggy, and she tells him to go away. But Willie tells Quentin that his mission was successful, so now it’s okay for Quentin to tell Angelique to buzz off. He has his portrait back.
“How did you know where it was hidden?” Angelique cries, and the answer is that it was in the most obvious place it could be.
But it’s a powerful scene, bringing Quentin, Angelique and Willie into a tense standoff, and the three of them are just beautiful together. They each know exactly who their character is, and it’s like trying on the clothes that they wore thirty years ago, and finding that they fit perfectly.
Angelique: You will regret opposing me. I am not someone to be trifled with!
Quentin: Neither am I, witch. I have seen the powerful rise and fall in this house, and I stand here still. This family is under my protection. If you move against them, you will find me waiting in your path.
The audience cheers, probably, and someone at Big Finish listens to this recording, and says, yeah, a Dark Shadows audio series could be a good idea.
There’s another big applause moment coming up in the next scene, where Angelique finds a teary Maggie pulling herself together in the bathroom.
Angelique: He’ll tire of you soon enough. And then he’ll be mine.
Maggie: Excuse me?
Angelique: It’s amazing that such a man wastes his time on a boring little wretch like you.
Maggie: Who do you think you are? You have no right —
Angelique: I have every right. You’re not worth washing the ground I walk on. Soon, though, I’ll make sure that’s exactly how you spend your days — at my feet, like a good lap dog.
Maggie: You bitch!
(Maggie slaps Angelique in the face.)
Maggie: You stay away from Quentin. I don’t care who you are — you come near me or him, you’ll be very sorry.
And the crowd goes wild.
That went okay, so now it’s time for the big all-singing all-dancing will reading scene, with the entire cast lined up at microphones to pay tribute to Elizabeth Stoddard, and everything that she ushered into our lives. This is a twelve-minute scene, forming an impenetrable mass of pure sentiment that may end up drawing all future Dark Shadows spinoffs into its gravity well.
I mean, when I tell you that it starts with Carolyn sobbing as she reads aloud, “Carolyn, my daughter, and David — you are Roger’s son, but you let me be a mother to you as well — I love you both with all my heart,” then you understand the kind of spectacle we’re dealing with here.
Then Carolyn passes the paper over to Quentin, who continues:
Leaving you is hard to imagine, but it is the way of things. I’ve had such a good life with you. I hope you make the most out of the time you have. It’s never as long as you expect.
To Carolyn, I leave the house of Collinwood. I hope you and Ned will make this place a living home again. David, you are always the wanderer, and I know you will not settle here. My personal fortune I leave to you. I hope it takes you around the world and back, until you find whatever it is your heart is seeking.
Liz’s 50 percent share in Collins Enterprises is split equally between Carolyn and David, and the other 50 percent was settled on Quentin at the time of Roger’s death. This is very important for everyone who cares about who’s running Collins Enterprises.
They start passing the will around, so everybody gets some lines. Willie takes it next.
Willie: (reading) Willie, my friend, you have been good to this family through many dark times. Before Barnabas left on his travels, he asked me to let you remain living at the Old House. It was a wise request, and I am glad I listened to his words. The Old House has blossomed under your care, and I think it’s best to leave it there. The whole house, and the grounds it rests on, I leave to you, with all my thanks.
(He starts to quietly sob.)
Willie: Okay, now, you know… That was a woman, there. A good woman.
Then Carolyn asks Maggie to read. She demurs, but Carolyn says, “You are a part of this family too,” which I guess she is, if you forget that she was a not very effective governess for a year and a half, and then checked herself into an insane asylum.
Maggie: Okay. (reading) Cassandra… (she sighs.) I never knew you well, but I know Roger felt there was unfinished business between you. It was his will that Rose Cottage and its grounds be left to you. Collinwood opens its gates to you, and welcomes you home.
Angelique: (sneering) That’s so sweet. She had such a way with words.
So everybody gets a house! Carolyn’s got Collinwood, Willie’s got the Old House, “Cassandra” gets Rose Cottage, and if there were any more structures on the estate, then we’d probably give one to Dr. Harper, who’s part of this family too.
And then we really get into it.
Maggie: (reading) There remains one thing left to do, and I find myself trying to compose the words I should have spoken so many years ago. I can not believe I have held this secret in my heart for so long. Carolyn, my daughter and my love, I have hidden a truth from you, and so many others. The time has come for the truth. When I was young, several years before Paul Stoddard came into my life, there was a man.
I’m not going to transcribe this whole thing for you; it goes on in some detail, and says exactly what you would expect. The woman that you know as Victoria Winters is actually Liz’s daughter, and Carolyn’s sister, and she didn’t tell anybody, because she got busy and started paying attention to other things.
Carolyn reads the big payoff, wringing out as much pathos as possible.
Carolyn: (reading) Carolyn, I ask you to do what I could not — find Vicki, and bring her home. Tell your sister who she is. I cannot undo the mistakes of my past. I can only look forward to the possibilities of your future. I leave the cottage we called Seaview to Vicki. She always said she felt her heart was at home there.
You see what I mean about the houses? It turns out this play is mostly about the distribution of real estate.
Now, I wish that I could say that this tidal wave of tears is intended to help us let go of the past, and look forward to the possibilities of our future, but it is absolutely not intended to do that. In fact, this does the opposite: it creates a comforting head-canon where all of the dolls have their own little dollhouse to live in, forever and ever. This play says that you should never let go of the past. You shouldn’t even go to Peru; it just makes people unhappy.
But there is one surprise waiting in the wings. She’s played by Terry Crawford, and her name is Violet.
Ned: (confused) Hello.
Carolyn: I’m sorry… who are you?
Violet: Pardon me. I’m not good with introductions.
Angelique: Oh, well, you’ll have to get over that.
Violet: Yes. I’m Violet!
Ned: Well, it’s nice to meet you, Violet.
Violet: Thank you!
Quentin: We may need a bit more to go on, Violet.
Violet: Violet Collins. I’m David’s wife.
Quentin: There we go!
Now, the first thing that you need to know about Violet is that this part was intended for Diana Millay, who played Laura on the show, and is, in fact, David’s mother. Millay decided to drop out of the play reading once she read the script, and Terry Crawford took her place.
I didn’t see anyone spelling out exactly why Millay chose not to participate, but my guess is that she didn’t want to play a character who married her own son. Laura’s an immortal phoenix powered by the ancient Egyptian gods, who burns and returns every so often, marrying into the Collins family. She was David’s great-grandmother, and David’s mother, and now she’s David’s wife. I don’t know if they planned to call her Laura or not. I wouldn’t put it past them.
Carolyn: David’s wife?
Willie: When did David get married?
Quentin: That is an excellent question.
Willie: Well, I woulda thought I might be invited, that’s all.
Violet: I’m sorry. We were married six months ago!
Carolyn: Six months ago?
The other thing that you need to know about Violet is that Crawford is playing her as if she has some kind of drastic mental infirmity. She’s chirping every individual sentence in an unsettling sing-song, and she keeps not recognizing that it’s time to give people more information.
First, there’s the “I’m Violet / Nice to meet you, Violet / Thank you!” exchange, which is bizarre, and now “We were married six months ago / Six months ago? / Yes.” And then she just stands there, and smiles. Terry Crawford is just as stiff as she was on the show; the last thirty-odd years have done nothing to loosen her.
Maggie: Well, how’d you meet?
Violet: Oh, I’d been with the University of Cairo, the Department of Archaeology. Well, that’s how we met. He was searching for an expert in Egyptology, and contacted my office.
Quentin: And then you went to join him?
Violet: Yes. His research in Peru was fascinating, so I joined his team.
So now we’re left with the question, why did David need to bring an Egyptologist to Peru? And if you needed one for some reason, why would you choose this one?
Ned: Violet Collins?
Violet: Yes. My maiden name was Chavez.
Ned: Violet Chavez. Who married David, and is now Violet Collins.
So now it seems to be catching. I wonder if brain damage is airborne?
Carolyn: Where is David? You know, we haven’t been able to contact him.
Violet: That’s why he sent me. He knows you were looking for him. He did get the letters about the death of his aunt, and the reading of the will. But they were brought into the jungle before David and the others went underground.
Violet: The research David is involved in is somewhat heretical in the scientific world. If his theories are proved, it could rewrite the entire — well, many people are following his work for their own interests. Too many eyes were watching, so David decided to disappear.
Which hardly seems fair. Finally, there’s an interesting story happening somewhere, and it’s four thousand miles away.
And then life just kind of moves on. The next scene takes place the following day, as Violet gets used to the place.
Violet: Ned showed me the stables, and the cliffs. It’s really beautiful!
Ned: Yes, a little morning sightseeing.
Carolyn: That’s good. You’ll have to learn your way around.
Violet: I’m working on it. I’ll make a map!
Quentin: Be careful along those cliffs.
Quentin: Yes. People have been known to fall off, occasionally.
Which is pretty much a period at the end of that sentence, as far as our interest in Violet Collins is concerned. Quentin is suspicious of her, and as far as I’m concerned, he can stay that way. I’m done with her.
So the show, correctly, ends where it began, with a heartwarming Quentin and Maggie scene. She finally asks him about Mrs. Franklin and the romantic supper with Cassandra, which as far as I can tell happened several days ago in story time. It’s odd that she didn’t ask before, but Selby wanted to end with a heartwarming Quentin and Maggie scene, so fair enough.
Quentin: Maggie… Cassandra means nothing to me. We’ve known each other a long time. A lot of old things come to the surface, when people like she and I meet again.
Maggie: Well, I don’t know what that means, but I’m tired of secrets. I’m tired of knowing glances passing me by, leaving me in the dark. You lock yourself away from everyone, even me. You’re going to have to make a choice.
Quentin: Some things aren’t meant to be shared with anyone.
Maggie: No. They are meant to be shared — to be shared with one person. You have to decide if I am that person, Quentin. I won’t be lied to, and I won’t lie to myself. I can’t accept a love that isn’t real.
Which is amazing. Maggie hasn’t had much of a chance to shine in this show; she’s mostly been a talk-to. Her only real connection to a storyline was Windcliff, and Sebastian escaped when she wasn’t around; I don’t think she even talked with anybody about him, after his escape.
It’s both Maggie and Carolyn, really; they’ve both been pushed around and patronized the whole show. Carolyn’s big plot point was conducted against her will, and in the second half of the show, she spent more time being sent to bed than anything else. They even brought in her old faculty advisor, to mansplain her own storyline to her. Her other big moment was finding out about Vicki, and she didn’t find it out herself; she had to read about it in the papers.
Maggie hasn’t fared that badly — she was awarded honorary Collins status at the will reading, and she smacked Angelique in the face — but overall it hasn’t been a great ninety minutes for her, either.
But here, in the twilight hour, as the actors quietly fold their scripts and tuck them under their chairs in anticipation of the applause and future cocktail opportunities, Maggie gets to be a soap opera heroine.
Quentin: Maggie, we all have places in our souls, chapters in our lives that are best locked away. Dark things are meant to dwell in the shadows.
Maggie: No. No, they’re meant to show us where we need to shine light most of all.
Which is kick-ass.
Maggie: We all have darkness in us. The danger is in denying it, burying it deep within yourself, until it swallows you whole. Now, if that’s the path you choose… then I won’t stay by your side to watch it happen.
And she turns and walks to the door. She is ready to walk out on the actual Quentin Collins, immortal pop superstar and eternally handsome heartbreaker, because he pisses her off and she’s not having it anymore.
Quentin: Maggie… don’t go. You might want to pull up a chair.
Quentin: This may take a while. I’ve got quite a few years to cover.
Maggie: Quentin… you’ve got all the time in the world.
Quentin: (chuckles) Yes. That’s a good place to begin.
Now, it might seem odd to you that someone would write a play that is entirely about summoning an evil avenging fury from the deepest reaches of hell, and then letting her move in next door. You might wonder why they’d bring in a mysterious new character three scenes before the end, and just have her act odd and aloof with no payoff. You might even question the dramatic choice to expose the housekeeper’s evil intentions, and then just keep her around with no comment. And it might occur to you that this is a play where absolutely nothing happens of any significance, except giving everyone a new house to live in, up to and including a character who doesn’t even appear on stage.
But this is soap opera, live and in person. This wasn’t designed to be a one-off production; it was meant to be the start of a new serialized narrative. The plan was to keep doing these every year, starring whoever was planning to show up to the next Festival. So all of the cast members are alive and well, waiting in their dollhouses to play again next year.
And they did return, at the 2005 Festival, for a sequel called Vengeance at Collinwood. There were only seven people in the cast that time, but they had all the big ones: Carolyn, Quentin, Maggie, Angelique, Willie and Jessica, plus Jerry Lacy as Tony Peterson and Reverend Trask. It was all about the evil Trask possessing his descendant Tony, and his plans to turn Angelique into a vampire, using a vial of Barnabas’ blood. It doesn’t work, and Trask’s the one who ends the play chained up in a coffin. There’s a synopsis of Vengeance on a fansite called Jeannie’sDavidSelbysite, if you want anything more to do with it.
They didn’t record Vengeance, and they never wrote another one, which is probably just as well. Big Finish picked up the baton at that point, and started running off in new directions. There’s only so long that you can perform in front of the people who show up to the Brooklyn Marriott. Dark Shadows deserves to run free.
Monday: The Great 1840 Wrap-Up.
If you’d like to hear more from me, and naturally you would, I’ve made a bunch of appearances lately on Movin’ Right Along: The Muppet Movie Podcast, which is made by my friends at my old Muppet fansite, ToughPigs.com.
For each episode of the podcast, they watch two minutes of a Muppet movie and talk about it a lot, and I’ve been a guest on nine episodes — four Muppet Movie episodes, two Great Muppet Caper episodes, two bonus episodes about TV specials, and most recently a Muppets Take Manhattan episode.
Basically, my goal on these podcasts is to use as much of my Modern Culture and Media film-crit vocabulary as I possibly can, and be super intellectual and pretentious, which I find enjoyable and you might as well. My favorite one is Episode 202, where I open the episode with a five-minute monologue about how studying French post-structuralist literary theory helped me to understand The Great Muppet Caper.
Here are all the episodes I’m on:
The Muppet Movie:
The Great Muppet Caper:
The Muppets Take Manhattan:
- Episode 304: Livin’ in a Bus Locker
So there you go, if I ever take another long break from posting, you can get your Danny Horn fix on audio.
In other news, the CW’s Dark Shadows: Resurrection revival, which I wrote about in Episode 1170: This Place Is Not a Place of Honor, has been sadly cancelled before even shooting a pilot. I know that officially my stance is anti-revival, but this is a bummer; I wish they’d had the chance to do something weird with it.
Also, Trump lost the election, which means that the magic spell that I cast in Episode 1185: Meanwhile, in 1971 actually worked, hurrah. Our beautiful kaiju managed to go back in time and defeat They, rescuing us from the dying tributary of time, and tumbling us into a new timeline where everything will be better, unless Barnabas made some dreadful mistake that will make everything even worse. But what are the chances of that?
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Gabriel means to say, “You think I’m nothing, like Edith and everyone else!” But he says it like, “You think I’m nothing like Edith, and everyone else!”
Then he says that he’s going to give her “one chance to be nice to me”, but then he says, “one choice to be nice to me.”
Gabriel tries to tie the gag around Daphne’s head, but he gives up and just lets it dangle.
Daphne opens the secret passage, which makes a door-scraping sound. She goes back to get the candle, and when she passes through the door, it makes the sound again.
Joanna asks Gabriel, “What about the closed off East wing? There’s supposed — there’s not supposed to be anyone there.”
PT Gabriel says to Melanie, “Maybe I’m doing you a favor, by not remind — constantly reminding you.”
Monday: The Great 1840 Wrap-Up.
— Danny Horn