“Angel Street” Thrills by Dan Radovich
– “Brevoort directed Betrayal at
the PTC last year. That production was the season’s highlight, and he
has repeated the feat for 2003”
BANGOR – Penobscot Theatre Company’s
latest production, “Angel Street,” is a real corker. It’s that
theatrical rarity – an edge-of-your-seat mystery that’s truly thrilling
In its form and function, it has the
familiarity of a puffy, blustery, past-his-prime rich uncle. But there
are things lurking below the surface that resonate with modern
audiences, occasionally touching sensitive spots with the emotional
equivalent of a ball peen hammer.
The talents at PTC have transformed the
Bangor Opera House stage into a gaslit Victorian sitting room, the scene
of a diabolical plot involving an abusive husband, a timid wife, a
cock-sure ex-cop and a fortune in missing jewels.
Anne Penner and Michael Mendelson play
Mrs. and Mr. Manningham, married for five years and recently relocated
to a dreary London townhouse.
Mrs. Manningham is a bundle of nerves.
Her mother died in an asylum for the insane and she fears the same fate
may be in store for her. Held virtual captive in the house by her
condescending and abusive husband, Mrs. Manningham is blamed for a
series of mischievous pranks involving missing household items.
Is she really going mad, or is there
another agent at work? Where does her husband go when he disappears into
the evening London fog? And why do the gas lights dim at 10:00 every
These mysteries come to a head with the
arrival of a jovial ex-policeman and his subsequent pronouncement that
all is not what it seems to be on Angel Street.
Penner is riveting as the tormented Mrs.
Manningham. She is able to affect the confusion, terror and inner
resilience required for the character while keeping the melodramatic
notes from ringing false.
Also mesmerizing is Mendelson, who
creates a character so duplicitous, so thoroughly evil, that it’s all
the audience can do not to get up on stage en masse and throttle him.
John Thomas Waite exudes confidence and
single-minded duty as former police detective Rough. Elizabeth Van Meter
brings a convincing coquettish cockney charm to the alternately insolent
and flirtatious young maid, Nancy, and Alison Cox is unflappable as
Elizabeth, the older servant. James Bocock makes the most of a
unremarkably written walk-on as a police officer.
As Director Gregg W. Brevoort states in
his program notes, “Angel Street” is a hybrid. It presents the hoary
plot devices and form of an old-time melodrama but melds these familiar
elements with a modern psychological study.
Modern audiences, trained to expect a
twist ending, might be a little let down by the rather straightforward
conclusion. But the acting talent of Penner makes for a cathartic
Brevoort directed “Betrayal” at the PTC
last year. That production was the season’s highlight, and he has
repeated the feat for 2003.
“Angel Street” was first produced in
London in 1938 under the title “Gaslight.” It was re-titled for its
hugely successful American stage run starring Vincent Price as the
diabolical husband and Leo G. Carroll as former police inspector Rough.
A relatively minor 1940 British film
version was soon eclipsed by George Cukor’s 1944 Academy Award-winning
“Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.
The author, playwright and novelist
Patrick Hamilton, was also responsible for “Rope,” a successful play
from 1929 brought to the screen in 1948 by Alfred Hitchcock, and
“Hangover Square,” a novel that spawned a successful film in 1945.
In stage, the slightly florid dialogue
could have rendered the production little more than an intriguing museum
piece. The excellence of these actors, this director and this crew,
however, has turned “Angel Street” into a fun, exciting, slightly
disturbing and thoroughly memorable event.