Mike R. Price & Jennifer Poliskie. Photo: Little Colonel Playhouse
By Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Martin French
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Angel Street, as it is known in the United States, is a play written by Patrick Hamilton in 1938 but known more for its British title: Gas Light or Gaslight. A true thriller, to be sure, but one that can make a person cringe. When this play made its debut, it gave rise to the term “gaslighting”, which is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to a victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception.
Young and well-off married couple Jack and Bella Manningham (Gerry Rose & Jennifer Poliskie) are having a bit of a crisis; it seems that Bella is prone to moments of forgetfulness and paranoia. She goes about their large London house hearing noises coming from the upstairs and senses that the servants make fun of her behind her back. Her concerned husband assures her that the medicine that she has been taking seems to be making a difference and offers to take her to the theater as a treat. Upon noticing a picture off the wall, he blames Bella, who has no memory of doing such a thing and also asks the servants, that includes calm Elizabeth (Stephanie Hall) and snide Nancy (Sonny Tengblad), who both testified that they know nothing of the incident. When the picture is found and restored to the wall, he rescinds his offer and threatens Bella with the threat of hospitalization.
He leaves Bella alone in the house with the servants. As she sits alone in the house a stranger comes to the door and asks to speak with her. After a brief description of what he used to be, the gentleman shares with Bella that he is Detective Rough (Mike R. Price) and he has a suspicion that she may be in danger. The detective shares a bit of history about the house and convinces Bella to assist him in apprehending the criminal who has been on the lam for the past 15 years.
From the get-go, Gerry Rose immediately communicates a sense that this person is a cad. He looks at himself in the mirror at every opportunity revealing a proclivity to vanity. How he leers at Nancy shows indifference to his wife and a certain lustfulness that is creepy in every sense of the word. Very well done, sir, very well done.
The quiet, unassuming approach that Stephanie Hall brings go her character of Elizabeth shows bravery that, towards the end of the play, exhibiting a lovely loyalty and empathy towards our heroine. On the flip side of that coin, Sonny Tengblad’s Nancy is cruel, antagonistic, and full of herself. Another success.
It takes a little while to get who and what Mike R. Price’s character is as it relates to the storyline, but he takes it to heart and actually provides some of the more light-hearted moments of the show. He looked to be having quite a good time.
With the character of Bella, you need to find a convincing actress who can pull off being both naïve and clever. Luckily for us we have Jennifer Poliskie. Make no mistake, while Bella is triumphant in the end, she is a victim throughout this play. It is when she realizes that she has been made a fool of that she raises from her own fears and disbeliefs.
Angel Street, or Gas Light, whichever iteration that you prefer to go with, is still one of the most thrilling and often talked about pieces of theater. But, aside from the abuse that Bella suffers from her husband, Detective Rough’s hands are not clean either. How women were treated back in the 30s and until very recently makes this woman wince a bit. While it makes my blood boil, I was glad that director Martin French kept that tone intact. In fact, Mr. French did well with keeping the whole of the show in a Victorian style.
Fabulous costume finds by Emily Vergason and the set design by Bill Baker, Jane Burke, and Drew and Sharon Spurrier certainly gave us a feel of London in the 1880s.
There is a common mistake that is made about the play and I loved how Mr. French addressed those misgivings by using a “cameo” of Alfred Hitchcock, played by Ray Robinson. I also really liked the use of a film noir short that set the scene as well, produced by Mary Stromberg.
To be sure, there is a lot about Angel Street that you can get absolutely wrapped up in, but there are also points about it that you want to talk about afterward.
January 31, February 1, 6, 7, & 8 @ 7:30pm
February 2 & 8 at 2:00pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 40056
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.