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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Camp horror soap opera, performed live? ‘Ravenswood Manor’ is a scream

“Ravenswood Manor” writer Justin Sayre plays Bettina Doors in the Celebration Theatre episodic production.
“Ravenswood Manor” writer Justin Sayre plays Bettina Doors in the Celebration Theatre episodic production.
(Bryan Carpender)

“Ravenswood Manor” is described as a “camp horror soap opera,” and it’s as entertaining as that string of words makes it sound.

It is 1976 in the fictional Ravensport, and the townsfolk are dealing with murders and other strange goings-on that unfold as a 12-part episodic series. Written by Justin Sayre and directed by Tom DeTrinis and Jessica Hanna for the LGBTQ-focused Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood, “Ravenswood Manor” presents two episodes back to back each week, with a live recap at the beginning so that you can drop into the saga at any point.

Based on what I’ve seen, “Ravenswood Manor” is a sharply written and well-acted exemplar of the horror-comedy genre. The success begins with Sayre, whose lines are as poignant or as subtle as they need to be, the storytelling seamless when it matters most. He has constructed an intricate plot that is absurd, hilarious and mysterious, and he has crafted characters that fit perfectly into the camp, each amusingly over the top and foundationally ridiculous.

Striking performances turn archetypes — a grand matriarch, a closeted jock — on their heads. Almost all of the actors dress in drag, which heightens the humor and brings a depth to familiar characters. Angela Crisantello steals scenes as the nasally Sheridan, whose shrieking voice is complemented by a screeching cry. Sam Pancake has a couple of appearances that lasts all of 15 seconds yet elicit some of the biggest laughs of the night.

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Despite the abundance of talent onstage, it is the whimsical Sayre who commands your attention as Bettina Doors, the former actress with a secret. Sayre and his cast have such a keen awareness of their roles, their chemistry makes jokes funnier and dramatic moments more compelling.

In a production that is driven by the details, DeTrinis and Hanna deftly lean into them with action that is natural and smooth. Seeing the hunched-over maid Sarah Punt (Crisantello) leave the stage through the narrow hallway between a stage wall and the theater’s wall, dusting as she goes, was a memorable moment of humor.

For a show full of those sharp and witty moments, head to “Ravenswood Manor.”

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'Ravenswood Manor'
Where: Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 24. Additional Halloween performance 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $30-$40

Info: (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com/ravenswood

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