San Diego Theater Review: WITHERING HEIGHTS (The Roustabouts at Diversionary Theatre)

Post image for San Diego Theater Review: WITHERING HEIGHTS (The Roustabouts at Diversionary Theatre)

by Milo Shapiro on June 19, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


A complicated nineteenth-century story of love and retaliation, featuring 13 characters, could be tough to pull off in ninety minutes in any case. For playwrights and co-performers Phil Johnson and Omri Schein, the challenge is heightened by the pair opting to play all thirteen in their two-man show. It would likely be a poor choice if the goal here were to pull off the original dramatic effect of Wuthering Heights, the book they parody. Fortunately, the duo have no such intention–taking the tone instead to the ludicrous in their tongue-in-cheek tribute.

The plot of this classic, which is followed for the most part, is told in flashback by a housekeeper who knows intimately the serious of tragedies that have occurred in the manor, Withering Heights. Heathcliff, a street urchin, is brought to the estate by a kindly man to live with him, his unpleasant son Hindley, and his sweet daughter, Cathy. As the trio grow up, romantic feelings develop between Heathcliff and Cathy but since everyone knows Heathcliff’s background, class structure interferes with the possibility of their acceptance and, more significantly, Cathy’s comfort with it. Many think of Wuthering Heights as a romantic story, but Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel is more a tale of status and revenge, lending itself to some juicy parody here.

Johnson and Schein excel in over-the-top melodramatic comedy, giving all of their characters distinctive physicalities to help tell them apart. Cross-dressing, exaggerated voices, and physical idiosyncrasies add to the fun and help elucidate plot. Many of the lines are good for a laugh, although, in many sections, it feels more silly than funny. While the pair are to be commended for finding a way to successfully shrink such a complex story into a short stage show, be forewarned that the attendee who does not know the book’s plot may struggle to keep track of it all. Even fans of the movie, which lacks many of the characters presented, may find themselves scratching their heads at times. For enthusiasts of the original book, though, expect bold performances in a sweet tribute to the characters you love.

photos by Daren Scott

Withering Heights
The Roustabouts
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard
ends on July 9, 2017
for tickets, visit Roustabouts

Leave a Comment