THEATER REVIEW: “Gaslight” @ Barrington Stage Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
“Gaslighting” refers to the attempt to surreptitiously drive someone to insanity. This sinister act is at the core of Patrick Hamilton’s play Gaslight, now receiving a stellar production at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company. First produced in London in 1938, it was presented in the United States in 1941 under the title Angel Street starring Leo G. Carroll, Vincent Price and Judith Evelyn. The film with Ingrid Bergman (Academy Award for best actress,) Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten and a very young Angela Lansbury was released in 1944. There have been subsequent theater and film versions.
Set in London in 1880, the play is a classic example of Victorian melodrama. Mr. Manningham (Mark H. Dold) holds his wife Bella (Kim Stauffer) with a tight rein while subtly creating situations that convince her that she is slowly losing her mind, just as had happened to her mother. There is a third-floor apartment, presumably locked, in their newly acquired house where Manningham sneaks into at night when he is supposed to be at his club discussing business. When Bella complains that she hears footsteps in the apartment, he ridicules her and says her mind is playing tricks.
There are other devices he uses to compound her fears as he threatens her with punishments. He also demeans her in front of servants, especially the young Nancy (Ali Rose Dachis) with whom he shamelessly flirts in front of Bella. The housekeeper Elizabeth (Peggy Pharr Wilson) is the only support Bella has, but she is not in a position to do anything but comfort her.