“Bizarre love triangle” is an understatement.
Edna O’Brien’s subject in Haunted: quaint, sherry-tippling English matrimonial misery. Mr. Berry (Niall Buggy) is a randy old codger with itchy feet and a tendency to wax nostalgic. Mrs. Berry (Brenda Blethyn), a long-suffering harridan, toils thanklessly in a doll factory. If you somehow miss the significance of this occupation to the childless couple, director Braham Murray helpfully places a spotlit poppet upstage.
Enter Hazel (Beth Cooke), a pert waif with immaculate ingenue credentials (impoverished, do-gooder, asexual). She’s heard that Mrs. Berry is selling vintage clothes. Mr. Berry, beguiled, gives her a fancy sweater of his wife’s—the first of many surreptitious presents. Soon, the mismatched couple is hanging out on the DL, disastrously depleting Mrs. B’s wardrobe.
If this sounds like fusty farce, it is, mostly, complete with subterfuge and door slamming. But the bipolar play also has high-tragic aspirations. O’Brien’s characters compulsively quote Shakespeare (among other canonical gents) as if suffering from some rarefied version of Tourette’s. Like a drunk at a church bazaar, Haunted’s tone careens wildly from Masterpiece Theatre stuffiness to knockabout antics.
To wrap up, we get wailing, screams, a cancer death—even a mad scene (poor Hazel pulls an Ophelia). Was it love or punishment, Mr. Berry muses, contemplating his capsized marriage. For us, it’s certainly the latter.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 15, 2010