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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

In this house I can tell everything by the light of the gas. — Bella
Mark H. Dold and Kim Stauffer (photo: Scott Barrow)
An old-fashioned melodrama Gaslight is Barrington Stage Company's final Boyd-Quinson MainStage 2017 production. A solid old-fashioned Victorian thriller, Patrick Hamilton's 1938 London psychological drama transferred to Broadway in 1944 as Angel Street and ran for three years. As a popular film it earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar and established "to gaslight" as a synonymous term with to deceive in a premeditated and malevolent manner.

Barrington's fine cast directed by Louisa Proske has recreated the story of a terrified wife, a diabolical husband and the savior — a kind-hearted detective who foils the evil intent which swirls through the cursed, creepy home and sets the story in motion.

Though the plot has played out innumerable times in made-for-TV films, it is not necessary to be surprised by the plot machinations to enjoy this production. The actors convey the tensions and subtleties of suspected madness and potential violence. The audience is absorbed by the sudden twists of manipulative psychological abuse employed by Mark H. Dold's Jack Manningham against his fragile wife Bella played by Kim Stauffer.

As a doting husband who has his wife's best interest, Dold is solicitous and loving as he convinces Bella that she is losing her mind. Only he can save her from her mother's fate of ending her life in a mad house.

Stauffer's Bella explores every facet of a woman on the brink of implosion. Through Dold's expert verbal battering she doubts her sanity and questions reality while taking an unnamed medication for her nerves, of course supplied by her husband; she is reduced to an unsteady, needy creature who seeks her husband's assurances that she is improving and on her way to full recovery.

The insidious battering undermines her ability to rely on her own memory or past actions: Who has moved the picture and hidden it? How was the dog injured? Where is the grocer's bill, jewelry and watch? Poor Bella cannot recover her wits long enough to defend herself against Manningham's verbal assaults. At times generous, he abruptly snaps into cold-hearted cruelty as he badgers the beleaguered woman.

The two actors move fluidly through the stuffy Victorian parlor in a pas de deux of extreme but controlled emotion. Though a melodrama by design, Stauffer and Dold's interpretations are authentic and therefore ring true.

Mr. Rough (Kevin O'Rouke) is the retired policeman who, as the competent cold case investigator, arrives to expose Manningham's past and present schemes. With great skill he gradually convinces Stauffer's Bella to accept certain facts about her husband, using sympathy and humor. There are some droll moments, not at the expense of the actors, but due to their ability to discover the incongruities of the situations and intensify some of the lighter moments.

Two servants round out the excellent cast. Ali Rose Dachis is the sly Nancy, "a minx" who has designs on her master and is not shy in conveying her intentions. Peggy Pharr Wilson is the housekeeper/cook whose loyalties lie with her mistress and who understands that something is dreadfully amiss.

Kate Noll's set is the perfect dark-paneled, overstuffed furniture filled room, beautifully lit by Scott Pinkney in the appropriate atmospheric lighting. Anne Ford-Coates wigs and Beth Goldenberg's costumes neatly detail the time and social status of each character. Joel Abbott's sound adds vital musical cues and underscores scene changes in this two plus hours of pure entertainment with a serious undertone.

Barrington Stage will be hosting a seminar on bullying to enhance students' understanding of its implications. Gaslight, in its excellent incarnation, is thus a wonderful window into the past with a contemporary relevancy.

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Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Louisa Proske
Cast: Mark H. Dold (Mr. Manningham) Kim Stauffer (Mrs. Manningham) Peggy Pharr Wilson (Elizabeth) Ali Rose Dachis (Nancy) Kevin O'Rourke (Rough)
Scene design: Kate Noll
Costume design: Beth Goldenberg
Lighting design: Scott Pinkney
Sound design: Joel Abbott
Hair and Wig Designer: Anne Ford-Coates
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Running Time: Two hours twenty minutes; one intermission
Barrington Stage Company Boyd-Quinson Main Stage, Union St., Pittsfield, MA
From 10/4/17; opening 10/8/17; closing 10/22/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at October 8 performance

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