Director Amelia Ampuero and her excellent cast have roasted this old chestnut into something quite flavorful. The time is still 19th century London, as it pretty much has to be, considering the importance of gaslights to the plot, but the acting and staging keep a contemporary American audience enthralled.
The pacing is revved up (the script has been only minimally abridged) and the show clocks in at about two hours including intermission. The set by Charles Murdock Lewis is allusive, looking like a whitewashed Louise Nevelson sculpture wall, and it's certainly not what you would expect, but it works very well. The all-important lighting by Anna Nichols is likewise innovative, and gives you the requisite creeps.
The basic plot of Gaslight is known to many theatergoers and moviegoers already. I don't think it would pass muster in a playwriting class nowadays, since it doesn't demand much detective work on the part of the audience. What oddness is going on between Mr. and Mrs. Manningham? Is she really going insane like her mother did? Instead of us having to figure anything out, fairly quickly everything is spelled out for us by Inspector Rough, the retired police detective. It's a play more of "tell" than "show." So the attraction here is not so much the suspense as the quality of the acting.
Ampuero has decided to keep all five actors visible on stage throughout the play. No entrances or exits through doors. When not in the action, they sit on the sides and remain in character. I don't know how she thought of this approach, but it certainly keeps things zipping along.
Everybody on stage is in top form, and their English accents all sounded authentic to me. Evening Star Barron and Katie Becker Colón as the servants are excellent, and I wish they had more lines. Ezra Colón as Inspector Rough is a mile-a-minute talker, which is a good interpretation of this somewhat obsessed character, and ceaselessly entertaining. Frank Green portrays duplicity, cruelty, and lasciviousness all very convincingly.
First among equals, though, is Lauren Myers as Bella Manningham. She looks so wan and stricken that I was worried for her health until I saw her after the show. She gives a wonderful portrayal of a woman on the brink, and it's one of the best performances I've seen this year.
Only two minor things bothered me: At one point, Mr. Manningham says he is going to change his tie, then puts on the exact same one he just took off; and the fight between Rough and Manningham, where Manningham gets his hands tied behind his back with that necktie, is totally unconvincing.
In every other respect, though, this production really does a superb job of revivifying this old stage classic. There's life in it yet, and Duke City Rep has electrified it into a totally satisfying entertainment.
Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton is being performed by Duke City Repertory Theatre at their new home in The Cell Theatre in Albuquerque through October 6, 2013. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00, Sunday at 2:00. Info at www.dukecityrep.com or 505-797-7081.