I’m willing to wager that you have most likely heard the term “gaslighting” being thrown around quite a bit as of late in our current social landscape. However, as I know I certainly have, you’ve probably wondered where the term originated. Well, friends, look no further, because the play that I saw this last Friday night is precisely where that word first came into being.
For those of you that have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, gaslighting is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “to attempt to make (someone) believe that he or she is going insane (as by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation).” Sadly, we typically see this tragic phenomenon in abusive relationships and court cases involving horrific acts. This classic play delves into that very concept in an extraordinarily visceral way that has the capacity to leave you in a state of unease.
Prepare yourself for a night unlike any other that you’ve had in a very long time.
The basic story is that a couple named Mrs. and Mr. Manningham seem to be having some difficulties regarding Mrs. Manningham being mentally unwell. Mrs. Manningham (portrayed by an authentically vulnerable Leigh Deane) is beginning to wonder if she truly is sick or if Mr. Manningham (portrayed by a delightfully terrifying Shawn Davidson, more on that later) is just making her believe that she is. From there, we meet Detective Rough (earnestly played by Larry Silvestro) who is beginning to suspect that there’s something deeper going on in the Manningham household that no one else has even considered.
While I truly enjoyed how this entire cast works together as a cohesive unit, as always, there are a few actors in particular that stood out to me.
Shawn Davidson portrays Mr. Manningham with such an eerie energy that practically shook me to my core. Everything from his vaudevillian style vocal inflections to his meticulously chosen mannerisms (the fiddling of his fingers on his right hand was a much-appreciated added touch) created this sense of veiled dread as the play progressed. It was really intriguing to watch as his calm, kind disposition slowly devolved into a predatorily serpentine one. The levels that this actor created within his character in order to authentically become Mr. Manningham made his performance utterly enrapturing to behold. I truly enjoyed the way he interpreted the script and fit it to his personal re-creation of this complex character.
Mallory Turvey-Manthorne plays a catty, if not easily manipulated Nancy. I found it profoundly refreshing the way that she subtly clued the audience in on her feelings towards the other characters early on in the show through her use of carefully chosen body language and facial expressions. It allowed for a more genuine story progression in the later acts of the play. She made me feel something for a character that I may not have otherwise if someone else less skilled had been playing her.
On the technical side of this production, I really found my senses being treated to an absolutely decadent occasion with the set, lighting, sound, and costume design.
Adi Hendlin designed a deceptively simple, but certainly elaborate in nature set. What at first appears to just be an upscale Victorian living room, quickly transforms into a well thought out picture that wholly enhances the story itself. One of the details I really enjoyed was how there was a clear color shift in the wall’s paint where a picture is missing at the beginning of the play. That little detail initiated questions in my mind as to the nature of the story before the show even began. I believe that, as they say, the devil is in the details when it comes to a successful set design that immediately ensnares the viewer. Hendlin accomplished this artistic feat through her use of depth on the set with various strategically placed doors/stairs and thoughtful clutter.
The lighting design throughout this show truly helps to tell the story. If executed incorrectly, certain plot points lose their punch. It was very impressive how Regina Richardson, the lighting designer, made sure every lighting cue was hit with intense precision. Specifically of note is how the gaslights dimmed in a wonderfully synchronized fashion with the stage lights at pertinent times. I also enjoyed the lower lighting chosen for some of the scenes. It definitely contributed to the sense of foreboding that this story conveys (especially the use of shadows behind the double doors on the set that would preemptively warn the audience each time before a character entered).
Sound design was done by Beth Sanford. I enjoyed the use of the sound of a clock chiming throughout the show to demonstrate the passage of time. The vocal projection by the actors was flawless. I was able to understand every word that was spoken. If I’m being honest, the sound quality/diction of this show was better than some of the professional shows that I’ve seen in New York.
The costume design by Kristina Faison was time period appropriate and perfectly fitted to the actors. I especially loved the costume design of Mr. Manningham (sparkly silver number included).
Finally, rounding out this production, we simply cannot forget P. Wade Thompson’s direction of this show. I really enjoyed his modern interpretations of this older work. While maintaining its Victorian time period, he brought a modern element into it that I found to be a breath of fresh air. He also did a wonderful job of creating an accordion effect with the story. Just as the tension would begin to almost get to be too much to bear for the audience, he would pull back for a moment just enough to let you breathe and then begin it all over again. It reminded me of the second half of the movie emotional roller coaster that is Titanic in that regard, and I am one hundred percent here for it.
So, as the review comes to a close, the eternal question is, as always, would I recommend that you go to see this production? Yes, but, as usual, with an asterisk. This show could be very emotionally triggering for someone who has experienced gaslighting themselves. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has recently endured emotional trauma at the hands of another human being. However, if you do not fit into that category, I would recommend going to see this show, especially for its technical elements and the sheer historical implications of this tale as portrayed by its dedicated ensemble. Prepare yourself for a night unlike any other that you’ve had in a very long time.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.
“Angel Street (Gaslight)” will be playing at the Three Notch Theatre through October 13, 2019. For more information on the show and to purchase tickets, please visit their website here.