Program for Angel Street
Mrs. Bella ManninghamLee Donnelly
Mr. Jack ManninghamTony Eisenhower
NancyDiana Marinshaw
ElizabethLinda Johnson Orr
RoughDavid Y. Smith
BobbiesJustin Lyon, Tony Antonello

DirectorJay MowerHouse ManagerPhyllis Millard
Assistant DirectorChaike LevineReservationsTerry Eisenhower
ProducerC'Dale GrossVideo TapingJohn Heinen
Production AssistantsPhyllis Millard, Irene BillingsleyPhotographerTony Eisenhower
Stage ManagerChaike LevineProgramNancy Green
Set DesignDiana Smith, Chuck SeatonProgram CoverC'Dale Gross
Set DecoratorChuck SeatonTicketsJim Millard
Light DesignJim MillardPublicityGeorgetta Jones
Sound DesignJim MillardCover PrintingBolder Reproduction
Dialect CoachHarry PrestonProgram PrintingMicro-Service, Dana, Tim
CostumesCindy Charron, Diana Richards, Peggy HughsHospitalityPhyllis Millard, Evelyn Lee, Amy Lincoln, Cahty Catalano, Paula Holder, C'Dale Gross, Terry Eisenhower, Brenda & Chris Robinson, Kathy McCafferty, Georgetta Jones
Make-up & WigsShari LyonsSet ConstructionTerry & Tony Eisenhower, Jay Mower, Tim Olson, Chuck Seaton, Phyllis Millard, Irene Billingsley, Annette Huffman, C'Dale Gross
PropertiesPaula Pelletier, Lauri Berg

ACTion! *November 1993

Review by Jim Williams

Director Jay Mower's program notes tell us that Angel Street was first presented in London under the title Gaslight in 1938. Subsequently it was made into a movie of the same name and won Ingrid Bergman her first Academy Award. An old community theater favorite, it pops up from time to time when a group needs an old-fashioned thriller. In early productions, audiences only had to look back one generation or, in some cases, to their own memories to connect with an understanding of social and marital norms essential to the understanding of the play.

A company attempting a production in the 1990's must take responsibility for educating its audiences through "in your face, here's how it was" program notes or a production that transports us back to 1880 and makes us feel the absolute domination of men over women. Thanks to Jay Mower for just briefly nudging our awareness that Bella's "mental degradation is facilitated by the oppressive, male-dominated society in which she lives," in his three concise paragraphs. Indeed it is the production - cast, director, designers, crew that takes us back to a time when women whose husbands were good to them were blessed and those whose husbands brutalized them simply had a cross to bear.

Bella Manningham is devoted to her dashing husband, Jack and, although she appears to be somewhat emotionally unstable, Jack seems to be good enough to her considering the historical time period. Very soon, however, his sadistic side creeps out and we are made aware of the psychological brutality he has employed to make her believe she is going mad. She has no one to turn to. Her own kitchen maid, Nancy, disdains her and openly makes a play for her husband. Only the house maid, Elizabeth, shows any concern for Bella's descent into madness, but any interference from a person of her low social position would be intolerable. Enter Scotland Yard's amiably paternal Rough who assures Bella she is not mad, but the victim of a cruel plot to find jewels from a long past crime. Drawing from his strength and constant reassurances, Bella is able to assist him in trapping Jack, thereby catching a murderer and freeing herself from years of psychological terror.

Operating in a very small facility with the cast practically in the audience's lap can be hazardous to the audience's enjoyment. When PowPAC's curtain opens, however, the set designers' (Diana Smith and Chuck Seaton) talents dramatically suck us into 1880 with a lusciously rich set. Although fortunate enough to be able to borrow a number of antiques, strip them from the set and Smith/Seaton's use of color and texture would still draw gasps and appreciative murmurs from the audience.

With a rather talky first act to get through, Lee Donnelly as Bella and Tony Eisenhower as Jack resort to giving us nothin less than a first rate acting lesson. Ms. Donnelly, who can easily be a dominating presence on stage, cringes and cowers, matching wrenching facial expressions with lines that cry out for mercy and understanding. Mr. Eisenhower first elicits mild disapproval with his condescending treatment of his wife. In careful increments we are allowed to see his preening boorishness, then overbearing intimidation and, finally, frightening physical domination. Such riveting performances are just teasers for the next two acts. Can Lee Donnelly make us believe she is intimidated by anyone? Between her compelling acting and Mr. Eisenhower's explosive characterization they have an audience of believers. In a few of the scenes in which Jack physically threatens Bella, female audience members could be heard to murmur, "I can't stand to watch this," in response to the incredibly taut onstage action. Director Mower and these excellent actors take us just up to the line of melodrama without actually crossing over and the result is a tremendously rewarding evening of theatre.

With such intensity, light relief is needed somewhere and this takes the form of kitchen maid Nancy and Inspector Rough. As Bella's evident rescuer, David Y. Smith is a natural audience favorite. Through compassion and gentle humor he is able to persuade Bella she is quite sane and must act to save her very life. The rather offhand, smiling characterization works well for acts one and two, but seems a little out of sync when danger grows hot and heavy in act three. The amiable dufus routine could have been dropped when Rough physically restrains Jack from attacking Bella.

As saucy Nancy, Diana Marinshaw shows no respect for social class distinction to the extent that it is her character that periodically breaks the 1880's spell. With direction towards a slightly more demur coquettishness she could have been the seductress we might expect from the time period. Acting is excellent, character just a little anachronistic.

As house maid Elizabeth, Linda Johnson Orr makes an extremely valuable and easily overlooked contribution to the success of the production. Through facial expression and mannerisms, she makes us aware of her complete disapproval of what is being done to her mistress and, at the same time, her total fear and powerlessness to take any steps to help. For here it is not only what a woman could not do, but what a woman of her class could not do to deal with the terror unfolding before her eyes.

Costume designers Cindy Charron, Diana Richards and Peggy Hughs make a significant contribution to the authenticity of the production and lighting designer Jim Millard is no less than a miracle worker for being able to create the moods he does with PowPAC's simple lighting system.

Whatever the production, PowPAC is always a pleasure to visit. Their gracious house staff is always friendly and interested in the audience's comfort. This reviewer was delighted to have been ushered into "the terrifying darkness of late afternoon before the feebly dawn of the gas light."