Played out against the backdrop of a meticulously detailed Victorian sitting room, the new production of “Angel Street,” staged by Ed Fletcher’s Early Bird Dinner Theatre, embraces all the best aspects of this classic play penned by English playwright Patrick Hamilton.
“Angel Street” runs through Oct. 28 at the Italian American Club, 200 S. McMullen Booth Road.
With characters seemingly plucked from Ibsen, Hamilton’s period melodrama mystery was written in 1938 and adapted for the screen in 1940 and 1944. American audiences will be more familiar with the latter – the American version called “Gaslight,” starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Though set in the Victorian era, “Angel Street” incorporates elements of film noir and anticipates Alfred Hitchcock’s brand of suspense – not particularly surprising since only 10 years after “Angel Street” Hitchcock directed “Rope,” also based on a Hamilton script.
The story revolves around the Manninghams and their house on Angel Street. Initially, Mrs. Manningham appears to be flighty and fickle and persistently submissive. Mr. Manningham, on the other hand, comes across as strict and stringent, an authoritarian who demands perfection.
As the play progresses, the reticent mystery reveals itself in a series of incidents. First, items go missing for no apparent reason. The abusive husband seems to manipulate every situation to convince his wife she is losing her sanity. There are the inexplicable dimming gaslights and the noises from the top floor of the home which remains sealed. Finally, Inspector Rough makes a timely visit to the household, shedding some light on the history of the house and the unsolved murder that took place 15 years earlier.
Toby Manion’s portrayal of Mr. Manningham provides a seamless example of a character in flux. From being calculating and controlling in the first act, to baring the deeper malice that drives his illicit intentions by the end of the play, the actor is uniformly malevolent whether he’s sadistically taunting his wife or he’s pounding on his desk in anger.
Gail Scott’s performance as Bella Manningham is as outstanding as it is unsettling. Her depiction of the character’s mental and emotional disintegration is hauntingly convincing and in those moments when Bella is overcome with hysteria, Scott manages to project the fear and frustration over the audience.
Rough, played by Michael Crockett, has the task of filling in all the blanks for Bella and the audience. The burden of exposition leaves Crockett with some rather lengthy passages. Fortunately, he has the voice for it – in fact, he sounds a bit like John Houston.
The two servants are more than ably played by Tracy Borgatti and Jennifer Sloane. Borgatti’s Nancy is irreverent without being immoral, flirtatious without being filthy. When Sloane’s angelic Elizabeth appears on stage, she wears the part so well it’s difficult to think of her as an actor portraying a role.
Director Robin New – who also serves as stage manager and artistic director for the production – has to be proud of this cast and this production. It’s good to see Early Bird stirring up suspense on its stage.
Performances are Thursday through Sunday, seating at 4 p.m., curtain at 6 p.m. Matinees will be Thursday and Saturday, seating at 11 a.m., curtain at 1 p.m. Tickets are $29.90 plus tax and include music, dinner and the show.