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Angel Street (Gaslight)
by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 16, 2015

Clark Scott Carmichael, Janie Brookshire Photo by Eric Woolsey Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Clark Scott Carmichael, Janie Brookshire
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Angel Street, also known as Gaslight, is a show that’s possibly more well-known for its title than for its story, as “gaslight” has become a common term for a certain type of psychological manipulation.  It also inspired a celebrated 1944 film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and a young Angela Lansbury.  At the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the classic thriller has been brought to life in a a remarkably impressive production, with a strong cast, impressive staging and truly stunning production values.

This play, a suspenseful psychological drama, takes place in London in the 1880’s, in a well-appointed house on Angel Street. Bella Manningham (Janie Brookshire) has recently moved here with her domineering husband, Jack (Clark Scott Carmichael), who from the beginning appears to already be playing mind games with his impressionable wife. She’s constantly confused when household items like pictures on the wall and grocery bills go missing, and she worries that she will go the way of her own mother and end up committed to a mental asylum. There’s nobody else in the house but the household staff, represented by two maids of distinctly different dispositions–the older, more kindhearted Elizabeth (Amelia White), and the young, impertinent Nancy (Rachel Kenney), so Bella is especially startled when a mysterious police inspector, Rough (Geoffrey Wade) shows up unexpectedly while her husband is away, espousing an unsettling theory concerning Jack. As the evidence unfolds, including mysterious sounds in the forbidden attic and lowering light in the gas lamps, Bella is enlightened as to what type of man she married, although she’s not entirely sure what to believe, and there isn’t a lot of time for Rough to prove his theory before Jack returns.

The show has the flavor of an old-fashioned mystery-thriller, with a touch of humor thrown in for relief from the gradually building suspense. Staged cleverly by director Jenn Thompson, the play maintains the sense of mystery and tension throughout the production, as the earnest but bewildered Bella is driven further into confusion and her husband Jack’s air of sheer menace intensifies. The acting here is impressive, with Brookshire portraying many levels of character as Bella, who at first appears to be a something of a stereotypical naive Victorian wife, but descends further into confusion and fear as the story unfolds. Carmichael plays the self-absorbed, increasingly creepy and menacing Jack convincingly, as he deftly manipulates his initially impressionable wife. As the aptly named Rough, Wade is amiable, with an unrefined, somewhat bumbling air at first, initially confusing Bella about as much as Jack does, although Wade makes it clear that Rough knows what he’s doing despite his disorganized appearance. There are also strong performances from White as the loyal Elizabeth and Kenney as the flirty, ambitious Nancy, who clearly isn’t fond of Bella and may be too fond of Jack.

As great as the performances are, however, the real star of this production is its remarkable set. Designed by Wilson Chin, the set is as responsible for adding to the suspenseful atmosphere of the play as any of the actors. It’s deceptive at first, appearing to be a basic, well-appointed Victorian drawing room set, but as the story develops, the true genius of the design is revealed, as walls become transparent to reveal other rooms and floors in the house. This effect is aided well by the excellent lighting, designed by Peter E. Sargent, and Rusty Wandall’s excellent sound design. The precise timing of the staging, along with the set, light and sound effects, contributes to the increasingly tense atmosphere of the play.  There are also some very detailed, richly appointed period specific costumes by David Toser that lend a further air of authenticity to the production.

Although I had seen the Gaslight film many years ago when I was a teenager, I didn’t remember it particularly well and I had never seen the play. This production at the Rep is an ideal re-introduction to the story. Although there are elements of well-pitched humor here and there, the overall atmosphere of this production is one of chilling, impeccably timed suspense.  It’s a fitting play for the Halloween season. If you’re looking to be scared as well as entertained, Angel Street at the Rep is not to be missed.

Geoffrey Wade, Janie Brookshire Photo by Eric Woolsey Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Geoffrey Wade, Janie Brookshire
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep’s production of Angel Street (Gaslight) runs until November 8th. 

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