Theater review | NCRT’s ‘Gaslight’ sheds light on psychological manipulation – Times-Standard

First, let me say that I can see why the North Coast Repertory Theater (which chose to stage Patrick Hamilton’s original 1935 screenplay of the famous 1940 Oscar-winning film version of “Gaslight” ) might have done so to “inform” current audiences of the origin of this now infamous (often “politically armed”) term.

Explanation: This is the 1880s in Victorian London. Jack Manningham (Jonathan Moreno) is a misogynistic, dominating and dangerous man. One who relentlessly abuses (emotionally, sometimes physically) his bullied and submissive wife, Bella (Olive Dunn), to the point of driving her almost insane.

He does this verbally and psychologically, often using the lowering and raising of their home’s “gas lamps” to visually emphasize what she “imagines” is happening. Along with his devilishly engineered illusion, he also hides things he accuses her of losing. And cruelly, he constantly “reminds” him that his mother ended up in an insane asylum and soon “she will be too”.

Additionally, he brazenly flirts with their house’s naughty young maid, Nancy (Sara Jane), in front of his wife, insulting her further in the shameless process. We eventually find out that his blatant advances were apparently welcomed, if not brought to a more “romantic” conclusion with the smitten servant. At least not yet.

Bella is left alone all day, with the exception of the sassy Nancy, and another “happily loyal to Bella” maid, Elizabeth (Heather Hulbert), and Jack also leaves her alone every night for ” go out on the town” and does not come back. until much later. But, she still experiences the gaslights “behaving strangely” shortly after she leaves, then hears footsteps stomping on the floor in the “empty, unused attic space” above her head. (Of course, what a “surprise” it all ended once he got home.)

It appears their home was the site of the murder (about 10 years prior) of Bella’s aunt, a wealthy elderly woman whose very expensive jewelry (motive for a robbery gone wrong?) was never found. found. It also appears that she “kept company” with a younger, handsome man who was soon suspected of being her killer, but disappeared after her death.

Apparently her “unknown” killer had completely ransacked the house, looking for the missing gems, but apparently couldn’t find them. So now, had ‘he’ returned to the scene of his crime after seven years (the length of his marriage to the woman he was ‘driving mad’) to still frantically search for the jewelry he had killed for? To guess.

Wasn’t that, in fact, the fundamental reason why the ruthless Manningham had sought out the obviously naive Bella and convinced her to marry him when he discovered that she would be the one who would eventually move into his aunt’s house where the jewelry he was obsessed with still remained?

Yes. But only if he could “get rid of” Bella as he searched for his aunt’s elusive treasure (still waiting, hidden somewhere in the house) that he had never given up on making his own. After all, he had killed to have them.

Consequently, he would “turn on” the increasingly unsettled Bella with untrue facts so insistently and constantly that she would eventually have to accept them as true – and walk away after losing her mind, leaving the house behind. her for her possible discovery of jewelry. that would make him a rich man.

However, that heartless plan changes after a stranger – a retired detective named Inspector Rough (Noel August) – shows up unannounced one night after Jack’s usual departure. It changes everything that has been set in motion.

Although Bella is afraid of what she said, she is ultimately convinced of both her husband’s past killing act and his current actions to drive her insane. With her cooperation, the Inspector promises not only to protect her, but also to bring him to justice for his crime.

How it all happens in the middle of dialogue that is extremely “stilted” and would only be considered “conversational” in the context of highly stylized melodrama conversation.

Therefore, since this was not (to my knowledge) the playwright’s original intention, it lends an uncomfortable lack of authenticity to their “relationships”. It undermines the charming Dunn’s already understated approach to her character and underscores Moreno’s overly despicable and unnuanced approach.

It’s really hard to believe that any semblance of a “romantic connection” could have existed between them. She somehow always remains “the victim” and he “the aggressor” – even at the end after Bella “finds herself”.

And, it’s also impossible to swallow the fact that he’s an “irresistible townsman” who could not only still hold the bruised heart of an abused Bella, but steal the lustful heart of a “smitten” Nancy.

Sadly, there’s no “chemistry” between them to prove this point, although Jack (for some reason, never mentioned or explained) does occasionally ably play a number of (seductive?) classic songs on the grand piano in the living room.

No intriguing “Phantom of the Opera” vibe here if that’s what director Kelly Hughes was going for.

As for the performances of other cast members, Jane’s Nancy “always livens up the action” when she’s around; and Elizabeth de Hulbert is solid in the limited times she is on stage.

However, I wonder what actor August (or director Hughes) was thinking when deciding on the bizarre character presented as Inspector Rough. Looking like the recently escaped The Mad Hatter character from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – complete with an over-the-top “top hat”, vocal delivery and impersonation to boot – it’s immediately obvious this is meant to be a no -gender- specific characterization, in look and approach.

And, the character lines that consistently begin with “Mrs. Manningham,” adds to the stylized impression (as do Jack’s lines that often start with the name of the person he’s talking to – bad choice of playwright, not actors).

But, none of the above explains exactly why the Inspector (who we already know is not the plot’s usual gruff, middle-aged male actor playing the part), suddenly decided to “tell a secret” to Bella.

This happens when the actor takes off his clothes (back to the audience) to show him the character’s “true self” – at least for a few minutes, before putting them back on. What? Why?

Once this odd behavior passes and the action continues, we never find out why it happened, or what bearing (if any) it has/had on the original plot. Mad Hatter indeed. (Squirrel! Look over there! Gaslight. Gotcha.)

Luckily, the distracting Inspector “Wonderland” disguise is the only one where costume designer Olivia Gambino misses the mark. Bella’s pale pink dress is perfect for portraying her “innocent” personality; Jack’s dark, intimidating long coat and Victorian “gentleman” attire reflect his “ambitions”; and the starched black-and-white uniforms of the housekeepers fitted Nancy a little tighter than that of the “stilted” Elizabeth.

However, back to the plot of the play. The ending manages to deliver some interesting and entertaining twists before the web of lies woven by the blatantly deceptive and murderous villain is unraveled by the finally brave woman who can escape his clutches for good.

While I question some of Hughes’ directing choices for the actors, technically she made some solid ones for her sound and stage designs. Skillfully constructed by Hughes (and the show’s excellent lighting/property designer, Brian Butler), the resulting Victorian living room is stunning. It is visually arresting, inhabiting the entire space with authentic period furnishings from floor to walls. With the plush lounge all on one level and a separate raised level (where tea is served) at the back of the stage. Using rich, deep colors to enhance the whole thing (with a pair of all-important gaslights attached to the audience’s left wall oddly setting the mood).

The board operators for lights and sound are Anna Gillespie and Alana Hollis; managers, Jane and Hughes. All do their best under the watchful eye of NCRT’s artistic director, Calder Johnson.

Either way (no matter how hard the cast and crew work), the fact remains that the content is hard to live with. The public can only be shaken. Because today, not just in Victorian times, there is still psychological/emotional manipulation and potential physical abuse suffered by a woman too scared to escape.

So if you’re looking for a piece that will “entertain you” in the traditional sense of “entertainment,” then NCRT’s “Gaslight” isn’t the series for you. But, if you’re ready to get going, then this classic old “thriller” continues its run at NCRT with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays: November 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, and November 19 and 2. matinees and afternoons on Sundays: 6, 13 and 20 Nov.

Tickets are $18 general and $10 for students/seniors. For advance reservations, call 707-442-6278 or go to [email protected]

NCRT is located at 300 Fifth St. in Eureka. To enter, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or recent negative test (within 72 hours) is required. And, wearing a mask is recommended.

The duration of the play is approximately two hours with a 15 minute intermission.

But, please remember. Any members of the public who might be personally emotionally triggered by the disturbing content of this play regarding mental and/or physical domestic violence should not attend this production.

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