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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Irish Repertory Theater (off-Bway)

By David Lefkowitz

Seen any really good villains lately? I'm skipping most of the summer movie crop, so the personalities of Spiderman's and Caribbean's baddies are unknown to me, but I reckon they'd be hard-pressed to equal the creepy charisma of David Staller in Gaslight. He's playing Mr. Manningham (aka the Charles Boyer role) in the Irish Repertory Theater's mounting of Patrick Hamilton's thriller (originally known as Angel Street but often renamed Gaslight (as it is here) to cash in on the cachet of the Oscar-nominated film).


The character of Manningham could be considered a cross between the solicitous-to-the-point-of-overbearing husband in A Doll's House and an especially deranged "CSI" nutjob. In his first scene with wife Bella (Laura Odeh), Jack is all kindness, erudition and husbandly warmth, yet our skin still crawls as he frets over the state of his wife's mental health. Even if we didn't already know that he's the one behind the disappearing paintings, grocery lists and jewelry, we sense the threat Jack poses to Bella just by being her legally binding spouse. Staller's Jack is handsome enough to be a matinee idol, charming enough to be a cad, and in the final scenes, desperate enough to merit the rubber room he'd planned for his wife.


Relief for Bella arrives surprisingly early in the play, when the second scene brings semi-retired police officer Rough (Brian Murray) to the household. One assumes that when Angel Street first appeared in 1938, Hamilton's intention was to show Bella's confusion; she's not sure whom to believe: the husband she's loved for five years, or the copper who shows up out of the blue and tells her that hubby once committed a murder in the house they now own, and that Jack spends most nights scouring the attic for nine precious rubies that belonged to his victim. In Irish Rep's production, Bella figures things out pretty quickly; by the time Jack returns from his nightly manoeuvers, she's already armed with the truth - not to mention the cavalry hiding in the dressing room.


Although played straight, Charlotte Moore's staging of Gaslight acknowledges and makes room for the inevitable giggles and "oh brothers." If he's occasionally hesitant with a line, Murray nonetheless works magic with his patented twinkle. His Rough receives the evening's biggest laugh when offering Bella a very different tonic for her nerves than the medicines she's received from doctors.


Regarding the script, for all Hamilton's ability at ratcheting up tension, at times we marvel at Bella's naivete, not to mention some preposterous gaps in logic (i.e., when Rough's convinced - and


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