A crowd packed in from the cold, rainy night into the Masquers Playhouse in Richmond on Saturday to see “Angel Street,” the play on which George Cukor’s Oscar-winning Gaslight is based.
The five-character thriller, set in London during the 1880s, follows a woman whose husband tries to make her believe she is going crazy for his own benefit. This is known as gas lighting, which inspired the name of the movie adaptation.
The press release explains that “Angel Street,” written by Patrick Hamilton, first opened in December of 1938 at the Richmond Theatre in London. In celebration of the 70th anniversary, it is being presented in Richmond, California.
Play-writer Patrick Hamilton was also famous for writing “Rope Light,” which was later famously adapted into an Alfred Hitchcock film.
According to Director Patricia Inabnet, this play is important because “[women] take our civil rights, for which our foremothers fought rather hard for granted.”
The play highlights a woman’s oppression and loss of autonomy in a time before divorce and equal rights and the consequences of that loss to a possible madman.
For the first act, the stage lights were malfunctioning due to technical difficulties from the rain, thus causing a momentary audience awareness of the play, opposed to getting lost in the plot. This, however, quickly resolved itself as the plot thickened.
The five characters were Bella (Michelle Pond) and Jack Manningham (David Shirk), Rough (Norman Macleod), the private inspector, and the two maids Elizabeth (Jean Rose) and Nancy (Heather Morrison).
The plot follows a Victorian wife, Bella, under the control of her husband, Jack, who only pays attention to her when he barks orders at her. The private inspector, Rough, descends into their home when Jack steps out to attend to business, spilling his theories about Jack’s past life and his intentions with his wife. The maids are torn in the middle with their loyalties split between the husband and the wife.
Despite having a small cast, the big personalities of the characters and strong acting abilities of the performers pulled the play together into an entertaining event.
The single-set play had many riddles and hidden meanings in the dialogue, keeping the audience captivated and attempting to piece together the mystery.
The first act ended with the inspector reaching for his hat and the second act began with him picking it up. The intermission acted as a pause in the play.
The second act also brought functioning stage lights, which evoked a few cheers of appreciation.
Based on the amount of laughs at nearly every line, the crowd favorite was clearly Rough, an inspector obsessed with a fifteen-year-old murder case. He was the essential figure for comic relief.
During a scene in which Rough tries to pick a lock, he says, “This kind of violence makes me feel like a dentist!” to which the crowd roared with laughter.
All the actors in the play come from various backgrounds ranging from animators to lawyers, giving the play a unique, relaxed atmosphere.
The peak of the play left the audience breathless and on the edge of their seat waiting for the moment of truth. This moment presented the utmost irony in the discovery of Bella’s independence juxtaposed to her alleged insanity, which provided the moment of female empowerment.
“Oh, it’s really fun,” exclaimed Gillian Munn of Albany, who is a season ticket holder. “It’s a great outing for friends.”
The crowd left the playhouse cheerfully chattering and visibly enjoying themselves.
Many stayed in the lobby long after the play ended to discuss the play and speak to the actors, who came out still in costume.
“I would say the main moral to the story is just trust yourself,” said a long time season ticket holder.
The show will run at the Masquers Playhouse, located at 105 Park Place in Point Richmond, until Feb. 23 with shows on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.
To buy tickets online, go to www. Masquers.com