Angle Street (Gaslight) Impressive Revival at Woodinville Rep

Origin of the term “Gaslighting”

A casualty of Covid, Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton opened two weekends late at Woodinville Rep. However, this calamity did not in any way affect the quality of this exceptional production directed by Hjalmer Anderson, whose attention to detail served the production to a T.

Written just before World War II, Angel Street takes place in London around 1880, after gas-lighting became common in homes and while bustles were still in vogue. Angel Street only ran for six months in the West End, but as Gaslight, it was the longest running non-musical in Broadway’s history (1,295 performances) with Vincent Price and Leo. G. Carrol. In the early 1940’s two films were made but the most memorable was Gaslight, in 1944 with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, which won 17 Academy Awards.

Although set in Victorian times, when women did not even have the vote, and married women barely had the right to their own property, it nevertheless has extreme relevancy as one of its themes is what we now call “Gaslighting,”

Gaslighting or using psychological manipulation to deny reality so that the victim comes to doubt their own sense of reality, self-worth and sanity is exactly the dynamic between the husband and wife characters in this play, Jack and Bella Manningham.

As the play opens, in an absolutely exquisite set, Jack, the husband is snoozing on the sofa while Bella sits sewing. Bella’s hair-style and costume speak volumes. She is dressed like an adolescent girl; her skirt is above her ankles and her hair down below her collar. This was simply NOT DONE for a female over the age of 16; in fact the idiom “letting your hair down” meaning to be relaxed originates from this rigid social custom. Only in the presence of her maid or her husband was a woman permitted to literally let her hair down. Dressing like a little girl expressed the power dynamic with Bella’s husband.

Savannah Kinzer as Bella, Photo by Sandro Menzel

Her husband, a handsome dapper man with a deep resonating voice, is truly loathsome. Jack is ultra-controlling, psychologically manipulative. Flirting with the pretty young maid in front of his wife is the least heinous of his offenses. In his treatment of his wife, he poses as a Victorian father-figure. Bella, in turn, behaves like a child, as she desperately tries to please him, is unable to defend herself from his various accusations and just becomes a rumpled mess of confusion, while doubting her sanity. Viewed from a 21st Century perspective, Bella never challenges the “rules of engagement” her husband has dictated; she engages with his verbal abuse rather than behaving like an adult and calling him out on his behavior-at least initially.

Freja Jorgensen as Nancy and Jag as Jack Manningham
Photo: Sandro Menzel

Through the intervention of the servants and a kindly retired police inspector, Bella saves herself and Jack is unmasked as a man with a sinister past. This production milked the dramatic dialogue for every milliliter of suspense.

A lot of the credit goes to set, props and costumes designer Chris Curino. The opulent set was impeccably authentic and extremely attractive with small historically accurate details. One of the ways the costumes communicated character to the audience was that when the maid was off duty, she did wear grown-up clothes, with a bustle and her hair on top of her head, while the mistress of the house, Bella, did not have these grown-up touches to her costume. The audience often does not consciously notice these things, but they do get the point across effectively.

Technically this was a difficult show, with gaslights going on and off, clocks chiming and servant’s bells ringing. Due to David Baldwin’s excellent technical direction it all worked flawlessly.

The real star of the show was Patrick Hogan as Detective Rough, who supplied the comic relief as well. Wisely, he did not try to use a British accent, so his lines were natural and animated and he basically stole the show.

Patrick Hogan as Detective Rough
Photo: Sandro Menzel

Jag as Jack Manningham was impressive as the sadistic manipulative sinister husband, his deep resonating voice had the requisite air of authority. Frankly, there were times when I just had to clench my lips to contain my feminist rage when he spoke!

Savannah Kinzer was extremely well cast as Bella, she was young, freckled and innocent looking and her acting was solid. Her physicality, like a scared hummingbird fliting around the room, expressed Bella’s dual insecurities: 1) that she had inherited her mother’s mental illness and 2) that she would displease her husband. However, her British accent was shaky as she neglected to use British intonation or vocal placement. As a result the resonance of her voice did not sound British and she did not make it her own until the very last scene when she let go and her emotions came through.

As the servants, Teri Lee Thomas as Elizabeth the “trusted loyal servant” was sympathetic but also added a lot of amusement with her humor. Freja Jorgensen as Nancy the young attractive housemaid struck just the right tone of someone who wanted to take advantage of a situation and get ahead by using sexual guile.

Teri Lee Thomas as Elizabeth, Savannah Kinzer and Patrick Hogan
Photo: Sandro Menzel

Even though Angel Street is amusing in parts, while being a suspenseful thriller, it also deals with emotional and physical domestic violence. It is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.

I highly recommend this play, it was entertaining, thought-provoking, moved at a fast-pace and was full of drama and suspense. Hjalmer Anderson’s direction was indeed stunning and although I have seen this play three times, I felt on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Angel St.(Gaslight)Woodinville Repertory Theatre. Sammamish Valley Grange 14654-148th Ave NE, 98072. Fri, Sat 7:30 pm. Sun 2pm. Til June 25.



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