From Charlotte Brontë's monster in the attic in Jane Eyre, to the nail-biting debacle that is Natalie Portman in Black Swan, madwomen are well documented—perfect, paranoid representation of loss of control, and an indictment of feminine weakness.
Enter Bella Manningham, the nervous, misty-eyed creation of Patrick Hamilton in his 1938 play, Angel Street, another madwoman for the ages, adrift in the ocean of her own failing mind.
Or is she?
The play, originally called Gaslight in its British incarnation, spurred the birth of a new verb, "gaslighting," a form of mental abuse intended to make the abused doubt their memory, sanity and perception—and, boy, Bella's husband is great at it.
A 1944 remake of Hamilton's play featured Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer as the Manninghams, the well-to-do, disjointed husband and wife who receive a surprise visitor in elderly, but persistent, Inspector Rough, who has come to un-closet Mr. Manningham's skeletons.
Through Feb. 1, Angel Street is on stage at Cascade Theatrical Company's playhouse. But that is about all we can tell you.
The Source has been asked by director Sandy Silver not to reveal the details of the plot—although they are well known to versed theatergoers—to maintain the surprise of the nearly 70-year-old script. Fine by us; the less the audience knows going into the performance, the better.
Dan Millard, a new addition among the familiar faces of CTC, captures the cruelty of Mr. Manningham (played in the original British production by a mustachioed Vincent Price) with a cold ease. His deadpan delivery drips malevolence, and even includes a signature villainous black hat and facial hair.
Skye Stafford plays the helpless, neurotic and confused matriarch, wringing her hands for the duration of the performance with a permanent furrow in her brow. Liam O'Sruitheain, who has directed several productions for CTC (recently, The Games Afoot in November and Twelfth Night last January) plays the dogged Inspector Rough with a casual growl of a voice obsessed with catching a long-tracked sociopath.
CTC's production captures the confined nature of the paranoia—it is hot and claustrophobic in its one-room set. The small cast comes and goes over the ominous flicker of the ever-present gaslight on the Victorian decorated stage, complete with silver tea sets, antique furniture and cameo portraits on the wall (nod to CTC's costume and set designers Shawn Akacich and Thom Porterfield).
While the script seems antiquated and long-winded at times, it's more the fault of the writing than the actors or director. Overall, Angel Street is enjoyable for its nuanced dramatic performances and its sense of classic noir.
Jan. 23-26 & Jan.30-Feb. 1
Thursday-Saturday 7:30 pm, Sunday 2 pm
Greenwood Playhouse, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.