Regional Reviews: St. Louis
And it's a testament to the modern, enlightened audience that four or five of the 60-something and 70-something year-old women all around me at a Sunday matinee were groaning in misery for the first 20 minutes. Because we all know "that couple": one (often the husband) is gloating and exacting; the other (often the wife) is apologetic and rueful and increasingly doubtful of her own agency. Perhaps at one time or another, many of us are part of "that couple."
Here, Clark Scott Carmichael is Jack, that husband (who initially seems to have something like borderline personality disorder), and Janie Brookshire is his unfortunate wife Bella, rapidly driven to helplessness and even madness. But if you can just get past those first 20 minutes, verbally sadistic as they are, a classic suspense story will quickly blossom before your very eyes.
Jenn Thompson directs, and somehow our eye always goes right where she wants it, just as some new light began to glow here or there. And no one should be allowed to spoil the surprises of the magical set (by Wilson Chin), but let's just say it starts out as a pleasant but unremarkable London parlor, circa 1880.
And like that set, which will soon magnify the suspense, Patrick Hamilton's 1938 script starts out like one thing, only to become another. The change really begins with the entrance of Geoffrey Wade as an affable police inspector, a great friendly bloodhound of a man (Detective Rough) reviving a murder investigation from 15 years earlier. He practically barges in the moment Jack Manningham (Mr. Carmichael) has departed, having left his wife a nervous wreck. And the difference between this bluff, can-do detective, and the crushed spirit of a naïve young wife, is striking throughout.
But, even though this is a very famous suspense story, I am loath to discuss the particulars. The journey from psychological brutalization (over the course of a two hour show) to the last three grand scenes is ghastly, gripping, and cleverly vengeful. You might say "joyful" too, but that kind of joy is probably just a by-product of the scales of justice swiftly coming into balance at the last.
Amelia White and Rachel Kenney are great as the maidsMs. White (as Elizabeth) manages to be strong and funny under a harmless and subservient exterior, and Ms. Kenney (in the role that introduced Angela Lansbury to the movie-going public) is sly and powerful as a rival to Mrs. Manningham. Ms. Brookshire, it should be noted, walks a very fine line as the victimized, Victorian wife: not exactly an object of our own exasperation, but frantically treading water as fast as she can, desperate to stay afloat as she's caught in a blender of her husband's machinations.
A few great moments on stage we can discuss include a little compulsive dance Mrs. Manningham's fingers do on a "lost" letter from relatives in the countryside, found in a furtive search of the parlor; and a slightly bizarre tribute to Shakespeare by Mr. Manningham. Then, unexpectedly, there's an incriminating article of clothing, forgotten on an ottoman for what seems like five long, impossibly maddening minutes, till we want to scream at the actors, "you'll be caught!"
Playwright Hamilton is also known for the movie treatment of his other famous play Rope.
Angel Street runs through November 8, 2015, at the Loretto-Hilton center, 130 North Edgar Rd. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in order of appearance)
The Artistic Staff