CD Review: Return to Collinwood

I’m not done with Dark Shadows yet. An extra feature on one of the final DVDs for the television series, after the last episodes, was about an audio play written by Jamison Selby, David Selby’s son; it was performed by some of the show’s actors at fan conventions in the early 2000s, then they went into a studio and recorded it.

I checked for it on Amazon. Still available!

Return to CollinwoodThe story is on 2 discs.  Some of the actors play their old, familiar characters again. Nancy Barrett is Carolyn Stoddard, now owner of Collinwood since her mother Elizabeth has passed on. David Selby is Quentin Collins, 140 years old, but he puts gray streaks in his hair to look like a well-preserved 50ish. Kathryn Leigh Scott is back as Maggie Evans. John Karlen is still Willie Loomis, living at the old Collins house.

I like that Jamison Selby has followed some of the projections for these characters provided by the show’s writer Sam Hall. Carolyn has been working for years as Head of Psychical Research at the University of Maine (sadly, not Miskatonic U). Maggie was married to Joe Haskell and has been widowed for about 1o years. Maggie now works at the nearby Windcliff sanitarium, where another old boyfriend, Sebastian Shaw (Christopher Pennock) is currently a catatonic patient. She and Quentin are an item again, and she meets him at the train station when he returns from a trip to Peru; he’s been traveling all around the world since 1970, and has most recently tried unsuccessfully to locate the long-missing David Collins. David Collins went away after a quarrel with his father Roger and hasn’t been heard from since.

Other actors from the show are present as new characters. Roger Davis, who played Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark, is Ned Stuart, Carolyn’s husband. They’ve been married about a year prior the events of the audio play. Donna Wandrey, who was Roxanne Drew, is the dour Collinwood housekeeper, Mrs. Franklin. Marie Wallace, who played Evil Eve and Mad Jenny, is the not-at-all evil and entirely sensible Jessica Loomis, Willie’s wife.

The Loomises are hoping to stay on at the old house now that Carolyn is in charge. Willie has been renovating the place, putting in electricity and plumbing, as well as a big-screen TV. He’s in the process of installing a hot tub when he discovers a mysterious package hidden within the wall–a package addressed to him.

The surviving Collins family has been summoned to Collinwood for the reading of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s will and to try contact her spirit at a specific date and time, since she expressed a desire to speak to them all one last time. The only actual Collinses to make it are Carolyn and Quentin. David wasn’t found. Roger predeceased his sister, and who knows where Barnabas is?

To contact Elizabeth, they’re going to hold a seance. You know that the Collinses love their seances even more than I do and will leap on any old excuse to have one.

The seance is the high point of the story. There’s a nice use of sound in this scene as the group of six people gathered in the Collinwood drawing room–Carolyn, Ned, Quentin, Maggie, Willie, and Jessica–try to summon Elizabeth’s spirit. Their chorus of voices chants “Come to us!” while the wind whips up and Carolyn’s voice rises to be heard above the others, invoking memories of her mother. But as she speaks of “the lady, the mistress,” it becomes obvious that the person she’s describing isn’t the late Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. She mentions “eyes, blue as the sky” and “hair like spun gold.” Then there’s the sound of breaking glass–one of the windows?–and we hear a woman’s mocking laughter.

Yes, Lara Parker is back too as Angelique.

Angelique's self-portraitAngelique’s return has been foreshadowed since the first scenes  within the audio play. Carolyn, who usually paints landscapes up in the studio in the tower (a studio that only existed in the Night of Dark Shadows movie), has started a portrait of a woman she says isn’t anybody she knows.  But from the description, the audience will immediately recognize it as a copy of that portrait of Angelique in colonial dress that featured prominently on the show.

A woman’s voice has been whispering to Carolyn for some time, calling her name, telling her not to trust her friends, casting a spell over her even before the seance.

Sebastian has also been hearing Angelique’s whispers. That same evening after the seance, he escapes from the sanitarium and shows up at the old house. When a dubious Jessie answered the door, he tells her that he is “the arm of the mistress… the sword she wields,” and says that she has something he needs he before he conks her on the head.

End of Disk One

Disk Two begins with Angelique showing up at the front door.  Even though she has long, blonde hair, Carolyn recognizes her as Cassandra, the short-haired brunette who was once married to her uncle Roger. “Cassandra” says that she received a letter from Elizabeth summoning her to Collinwood.

Quentin recognizes this woman as well; the two exchange some cryptic personal remarks, and Ned and Carolyn are surprised and confused that they know each other. Small world, says Quentin.

He was the only person who saw Carolyn’s portrait of Angelique and knew who she was.  When Carolyn’s colleague at the university, Dr. Hunter, shows up to find out what happened at the seance, Quentin provides historical regarding colonial-era Angelique and helps Hunter with his investigation.  They don’t turn up any information we don’t already know, or guess, except that it was Carolyn, not Elizabeth, who specified the precise date and hour when the seance was to be performed, and that this time was the exact-to-the-minute anniversary of Angelique’s death in 1840. So Quentin wasn’t very surprised when Angelique appeared in person.

Quentin hasn’t forgotten what happened between them in 1897, when for a little while Angelique abandoned her fixation on Barnabas and got engaged to him instead. Angelique hasn’t forgotten that engagement either, and she means to follow up on it now.

It’s toward Quentin that she directs her attention, since they are both essentially immortal–or at least very long-lived in comparison to the ephemeral lives of the normal Collinses whom, as Angelique says, will soon be “dust”. Why should they not join forces and have Collinwood for themselves? Apparently, it’s something she’s been after since she first came to the place as a maidservant in the 1790s.

That package Willie found, and that Sebastian stole? It was Quentin’s portrait, the one that keeps him preserved in a Dorian-Gray-like state of 30something youth and keeps him from turning into a werewolf at every full moon. I’d have thought that a safe or safety deposit box at a bank would be a better place to protect such an important object, but this was Barnabas’s choice of hiding place. Willie tells Quentin all of this while his wife is in the hospital after being hit in the head. It’s from Willie we also learn that Barnabas and Julia are off somewhere on a spiritual quest into the Himalayas. They couldn’t be expected to get back to Collinsport in time for this family meeting, since Barnabas is afraid to fly.

Angelique now has the portrait and intends to use it to force Quentin to do what she wants. She seems to believe that if the painting is destroyed, he’ll turn into a werewolf. I suppose that’s so, but he’ll be a 140-year-old werewolf and more likely than not drop dead before he can pop his fangy dentures into place.

After all this build-up, the tense situation is then defused way too quickly. Quentin sends Willie to look for Sebastian and the painting in that secret room behind the Collins family crypt–the place where Barnabas’s coffin was once hidden. While Willie is out wandering  the cemetery, Quentin and Angelique have a private dinner, which the housekeeper Mrs. Franklin completely supports. She tells Maggie that they are Collinses and they belong here, and Maggie doesn’t. Go away. Maggie runs off in tears.

But this cozy dinner is just a distraction; Willie does find Sebastian and gets the portrait back, so Angelique no longer has a hold over Quentin.

The best sequence in Part 2 is when Elizabeth’s will is read. While the deposition of her estate isn’t very interesting, she does finally reveal the answer to that one family secret that’s been hovering over the show since its very first episode: who was Victoria Winters?*

Although I was delighted to have closure on that point from a semi-canonical source at last, this emotional moment–very emotional for Carolyn–should’ve been at the conclusion of the drama. Instead, the audio play goes on for another 15 or 20 minutes and the rest of the story strikes me as anticlimactic.

I wonder if Jamison Selby was intending to do further episodes. There are quite a few  ends left open here. Angelique’s quest for Collinwood has been defused for the moment, but she’s still around and surely wouldn’t have given up so easily just because Quentin told her to leave his family alone. And Carolyn was asked to find Vicky–she would want to try and fulfill her late mother’s last request, even it it involves time travel.

Quentin and Maggie have a scene of reconciliation that would have been better placed before the will reading instead of being the story’s final note. Also, there’s a last-minute subplot where a woman (Terry Crawford) shows up claiming to be David’s wife, but her part in the story doesn’t go much of anywhere and again leaves me wondering about an intended sequel.

Character profiles The story of David’s adventures in Peru was mildly amusing to me since I was listening to the latest H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s Dark Adventure Radio Theatre program the same evening and both involved people going down into tunnels in the Andes Mountains. I doubt that David Collins ran into any Lovecraftian Migo, though.

The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre plays have rather spoiled me with all the cool props, maps, fake newspaper clippings, and such that come with each CD.

This CD box doesn’t contain anything like that, but it does have a short introduction from Jamison Selby, who grew up with Dark Shadows, as it were–he was born during the show’s original run and has always taken part in the fandom. There are also liner note descriptions of the characters accompanied by the actors’ photographs, which was helpful in keeping track of all the people who’ve come back to Collinwood and what they’ve been up to.

I also like that the audio play reused so many of the old musical cues from the show, not just the Dark Shadows theme music and Quentin’s sweet old waltz played on the gramophone, but the same “stings” for dramatic or suspenseful moments.

___________________________

Elizabeth and her daughters* Elizabeth says that Vicky was her daughter, born from an affair with a man she does not name and given up to an orphanage before she married Carolyn’s father, Paul Stoddard.

It didn’t surprise me, since Alexandra Moltke had said in one of her DVD interviews that this was what the show’s writers had intended from the beginning, and that she was cast for her resemblance to Joan Bennett.  I’ve always thought that, of the two, dark-haired Vicky looked much more like a daughter for Elizabeth than the fair-haired Carolyn.

About Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats. As well as being the author of numerous short stories, novellas, and essays, she is the author of "Maiden in Light," "The Wizard's Son," and "Sonnedragon," novels set on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period. All three are part of an intended series of fantasy novels that mostly take place in a dukedom called the Northlands, a part of the Norman Empire that roughly covers the north-eastern U.S.
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One Response to CD Review: Return to Collinwood

  1. Kathryn L Ramage says:

    Rewatching the DVD of the very first episodes of Dark Shadows, I see that there’s a promo for an audio series, so there should indeed be more to the story following this. I’ll look into it in the New Year.

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