Gaslight

Justin Waldo and Cheyenne See star as Jack and Bella Manningham in Gaslight at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. Original photos by Olivia Michaels Bogert.
You haven’t really seen gaslighting until you’ve seen this play!

By Andrew Andrews

We’re in London in the late 1800’s, and Jack Manningham is convincing his wife Bella that she’s losing her mind.

Items in the house keep going missing, and Jack insists that she must be hiding them while he’s away.

At night, when Jack goes to his men’s club, Bella hears footsteps in the attic, and notices the gas-powered lights dimming, as if additional lights have been turned on elsewhere in the house.

After their latest argument over Bella’s behavior, Jack leaves in anger before a strange man named Rough knocks at the door and insists on speaking with Bella.

Claiming to be a retired police inspector, Rough tells Bella that Jack murdered the home’s previous owner. Jack, he says, sneaks into the attic each night in search of the victim’s hidden jewels, and is trying to convince Bella of her own insanity as an excuse to get her out of his way.

After multiple incarnations in the U.S. and U.K. and two movie adaptations, The CENTER reprises this 1938 “Victorian thriller in three acts” for socially-distanced live audiences in Rhinebeck.

Joshuah Patriarco as Rough and Emily Depew as Elizabeth. Emily McCarthy and Elizabeth Dimon, not shown, complete the cast.

Considering the popularity of the term gaslighting over the past few years, this is the perfect time for a production of the play that gave the behavior its name.

Although I personally find it hard to believe that Bella would be so susceptible to Jack’s manipulation in this day and age, I have no doubt that the power imbalance in Victorian times would make it that much easier. With their mid-century releases predating the women’s liberation movement, audiences of the original incarnations of the play and its derived movies would likely find it equally realistic.

This rendition definitely has a “classic” feel to its delivery, with somewhat melodramatic emphasis on Bella’s helplessness and the comical aspect of Rough’s personality equally amplified. Although the direction is by no means farcical, I appreciated the show for its historical value more than any ability to draw me in, and—perhaps in part due to its well-known outcome—I was never really close to hanging on the edge of my seat to find out what would happen next.

Taking advantage of similarities between the setting of this story and their recent production of Deathtrap, the stage design for Gaslight sees different furniture surrounded by the former’s slightly-tweaked familiar structural elements.

Our performance suffered from some lighting issues: I didn’t notice any change to the intensity of the gas lights at the critical moments (important as the namesake for the play!), and two of the three acts started before the lights came up on the actors.

While two people who joined us (but rarely attend live theatre) were very much impressed, my partner and I both found this production enjoyable, but nothing to go crazy about.

3

Andrew Andrews attended Gaslight at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck on Saturday, October 23, 2021 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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