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Angel Street
The Adobe Theater

Also see Rob's review of 1776

Angel Street
Teresa Kizziah, Dale Simpkins and Stephen Zamora
Angel Street, a 1938 play by British writer Patrick Hamilton, is one of those plays that likely would be forgotten by now if it had not been made into a movie. The play's original title was Gas Light, and in 1940 the British film version Gaslight was made. In 1941, the play opened on Broadway under the title Angel Street and ran for three years. In 1944, the famous Hollywood remake of Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer came out, winning Bergman her first Best Actress Oscar. Most people of a certain age know what it means to give somebody "the gaslight treatment." (There is no "Angel Street treatment.")

The play is entertaining throughout, but very straightforward. If a similar story were written today, the plot would have twists and turns, there would be double- and triple-crosses, you wouldn't know who was in cahoots with whom, and there would be one or two false endings and then a punchline. In Angel Street, there's very little for us to figure out, since we're told pretty much everything as the play goes along. I expected more surprises. The biggest surprise was that I was never bored.

With older plays, it's helpful to set your mind's metronome to a different tempo: slow it down from agitato to adagio. People talk and talk, not too much happens on stage besides the talking, you have to wait for the servants to come in and go out, the husband calls in the maid and orders her to go upstairs and tell his wife to come downstairs instead of going up to get her himself ... that sort of thing. If you're impatient, it doesn't work. If you stop looking at your watch, you will probably enjoy it.

The less you know about the plot, the better off you will be. A husband and wife and a retired police inspector are the main characters. Dale Simpkins plays Jack Manningham, the husband, and he pretty much declaims all his lines, some louder than others. If he had at least pretended to love his wife and be solicitous about her health, as the plot calls for, there might be some ambiguity in his character, and the play would be more of a puzzle for the audience.

Teresa Kizziah, as the wife Bella, is saucer-eyed and tremulous throughout the play. This isn't inappropriate, since she's supposed to be scared almost all the time, but there's not much in the way of a character arc—which might be more the fault of the play than the performer or director. Stephen Zamora is very good as the inspector who explains it all for us. His accent and demeanor are natural and unforced. The two servants are well-played by Anne Sheridan and Madelon Brown.

Director Paula Stein has rehearsed her cast well: the English accents rarely waver, the stage action is well thought out, and on opening night there were no hesitations or missed cues. The technical set-up must have been a nightmare, but it all goes off without a hitch.

In fact, the real stars of the show are the people we never see: set designer Bob Byers and the set builders (Bob Byers, Steve Cox, Rick Hassi, Don Kauffman, Patsy Rippo and Jean Moran—these people are almost never mentioned in a review, but in this case they definitely need to be acknowledged), stage manager Chris Whitson, costume designer Judi Buehler and hair/makeup person Joan Costello, sound designer Taunya Crilley, props managers Pam Aragon and Stan Aragon, and above all, lighting designer Michael Girlamo and light/sound board operator Yana Whitson.

For a small community theater with a limited budget like the Adobe, the set is really pretty spectacular. It features an authentic Victorian living room in 1880s London, perfectly appointed with wallpaper, draperies, furniture, glassware and, importantly, several lamps. The lighting is essential to the play, and is wonderfully done. Every time the gaslights dimmed, I got that creepy tingle that a good thriller can provide. I wish the script had provided a few more tingle-inducing moments, but overall I did enjoy myself at the Adobe Theater.

Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton is being performed at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth Street NW in Albuquerque through July 29, 2012, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Info at 505-898-9222 or adobetheater.org.


Photo: Ossy Werner

--Dean Yannias



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