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Angel Street By Patrick Hamilton

Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

Penobscot Theatre Company

Bangor, Maine

 

The Ellsworth American
“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 to watch.

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 night?

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 late-inning sidestep.

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.