note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Stoneham Theatre steals the spotlight this week with its stunning, edge-of-seat, dramatic production of Anthony Walter Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 all-time psychological thriller, “Gaslight”. Stoneham Artistic Director Weylin Symes, who is also the director, has gathered a star-studded cast, and the production team has outdone itself, especially with Katy Monthei’s eerie, Victorian Gothic set of a gloomy house in 1880‘s London. Besides the darkly-lit drawing room with flickering, fading and glimmering gas lights, (thanks to designer Jeff Adelberg) there are creepy, draped overhangings and steep, wooden steps leading to unused, locked upper rooms and the bedroom of emotionally tormented Bella Manningham.
Sound designer David Reiffel’s weird background music, threatening, foreboding thunderstorm, things that go clump, clod, thump, pound, and patter day and night, are driving Bella insane. Her diabolical, charming husband, Jack Manningham, mentally torments, tortures, and plays cat-and-mouse games with her fragile ego, determined to commit her to an insane asylum. Gail Astrid Buckley’s historically accurate, handsome costumes add to the production’s Victorian austerity.
The theme of an evil man who marries for money then tries to convince his wife that she’s going insane - or kill her - to get that money isn‘t new. It’s a terrifying constant throughout the history of mankind; and Hamilton’s brilliantly crafted “Gaslight” is a pulsating, thrilling depiction of these despicable monsters we’ve known personally or have seen sensationalized in the news.
Immensely versatile, award-winning actress Marianna Bassham is heart-rending as Bella, a creature whose essence has been chiseled away, piece by piece, moment by moment, and begins to doubt her own strength and sanity. Robert Serrell as her handsome, woman-chasing, narcissistic husband is evil incarnate. In several scenes, Bassham, and Serrell, are frighteningly realistic during scenes in which he’s tormenting her, convincing her she’s insane like her mother, who died in an insane asylum. Their performances are nail-biters. Bassham writhes in mental anguish, agonized by his promising to take her to the theater, then rescinding that rare spark of sunlight by accusing her of hiding and losing things. We cringe watching her buckle and faint after he has reduced her to hopelessness.
Adding further to Bella’s humiliation, Jack flirts blatantly with sassy servant Nancy, whom Bella resents because of the servant’s disrespect and haughtiness. Angie Jepson as Nancy is so convincingly uncaring, we want to wring her neck. Accomplished supporting actors Barlow Adamson and Ian O’Connor as policemen and Dee Nelson as Bella’s devoted housemaid, Elizabeth, round out the cast.
Before Act I closes, a stranger arrives at the house, insistent on speaking only to Bella, and he reveals startling facts that change her life, restore her confidence, and empowers her to exact her own vengeance. Christopher Webb as Inspector Rough, the stranger and Bella’s savior, adds tongue-in-cheek humor, yet dramatic firepower during his pivotal confrontation with Jack; and Bassham is outstanding in her final scene.
“Gaslight” has garnered success in England since its premiere in 1938, and was the longest-running drama on Broadway, initially in 1941 and renamed “Angel Street,” starring Vincent Price. Its fan base ballooned as a British movie in 1940 and in America, as a George Cukor movie in 1944, starring Charles Boyer, Angela Lansbury, and Ingrid Bergman, for which Bergman won an Oscar. The 1938 melodrama continues to keep audiences enthralled, both on stage and the silver screen. Stoneham Theatre’s production is a slick, nail-biting adaptation that mystery and drama fans won’t want to miss.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour psychological mystery written by Patrick Hamilton, directed by Weylin Symes, starring Marianna Bassham and Robert Serrell, appearing now through June 13, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. Admission: $38-$44; seniors, $34-$40; students, $20; senior, student matinee discounts also. Call the Box Office at 781-279-2200, or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.