`Gaslight’ burns hot

By defaultuser
March 22, 2001

by Chris Vesci
staff writer

Touted as a “spellbinding thriller” on the flags adorning the Walnut Street Theater, the play “Gaslight” examines the power of manipulation and a horrid past that cannot be easily subdued. Playing until April 29 and written by Patrick Hamilton, it is a psychological and riveting experience.

From the first scene in this Victorian mystery, we know who the victim is. Poor Mrs. Manningham is being forced by her husband to believe that she is going insane. He hides things in their fashionable home only to put them back in odd places. Then he blames it all on his wife. Paintings, bills, broaches… he’s hid it all. He even hurts the dog and accuses her of doing it. He uses the fact that her mother went crazy to convince her that she is on a similar path. He also belittles her in front of the maid, with whom he is having an affair.

Why would a man torment his wife to such a great extent? What is his plan? Does he want her money? Or are his motives even deeper than this? The play is slow-going at first but takes off with the exit of Mr. Manningham and the arrival of a strange visitor. Without giving away too much, let it be known that this visitor tells of the house’s murderous history and what it might mean to Mrs. Manningham, who moved in with her husband six months ago. Mrs. Manningham, in turn, tells about the footsteps she hears at night on the forbidden third floor of the home. She can tell someone is up there with a gaslight burning because all the other gaslights in the house fade slightly.

The play is twisty and suspenseful from here on, only stopping twice to take a quick breath (in the form of two intermissions). By the end, all questions are answered and tied up nicely and our once weak heroine Mrs. Manningham enjoys a delicious piece of revenge.

The cast is effective and performs well. This is meant to be slightly over-the-top and they seem to have great fun with it. Sally Mercer, as Mrs. Manningham, does the switchover from innocence to vengeance with skill. John Bourgeois does a decent job as Mr. Manningham, though he could have made him a little bit more interesting and dimensional. As Rough, a down-to-earth detective, Ian D. Clark is funny and likable.

The set is handsomely Victorian and adorned, of course, with plenty of flickering gaslights. There is some between-the-scenes music that also enhances the appeal and suspense of the play. Consequently, a film version of this play exists, but if you plan on seeing “Gaslight” at the Walnut, the less you know the better. Simply find the edge of your seat and prepare to spend an evening in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Manningham of London.

For ticket information call 215-574-3550 or visit http://www.wstonline.org.

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