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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Night Must Fall and Angel Street both began life on stage and later became golden oldie movie classics. Angel Street's movie version became Gaslight, a renaming inspired by the on-and-off flickering of the gas lit fixtures which figure so importantly in the spine tingling events. Variations of "are you trying to gaslight me?" have outlived both play and movie as a common expression for actions which seem destined to make someone feel deranged. This season, both these plays have been pulled out of the theatrical morgue by two very able directors, Night Must Fall (see link) by John Tillinger and Angel Street by Rob Urbinati.
Though without a cast of bankable box office names or a modish film noir style setting, the production of Angel Street currently at the Pearl Theatre Company's East Village space is the more satisfying of the two by far. That's not to say that Patrick Hamilton's story about a sensitive woman whose husband has just about convinced her that her sanity is disintegrating is the stuff of great dramatic literature. But its author had knack for pulling out every stop to keep audiences glued to the edge of their seats. Thus, even though melodramas were already considered passé in 1938 when Angel Street premiered, its multitude of suspense elements proved there was life in the well-made Victorian spine tingler after all. A diabolical killer and seducer, spousal abuse in the parlor and probably the bedroom as well, bigamy, lost rubies, mysterious footfalls and light shifts , locked drawers and rooms and an insistently persistent policeman -- that's a fairly complete list of the elements Hamilton managed to stuff into his three acts.
And now, more than sixty years later, Rob Urbinato has successfully resurrected this plot-heavy antique, adding a touch of sly, underlying humor without removing a single of its many twists and turns. Aided and abetted by six actors seemingly born to the mad doings of this Victorian townhouse, the new Angel Street proves itself alive and well. It achieves the near impossible feat of keeping you entertained, in suspense and amused all at once. A nice hat trick!
Richmond Hoxie plays Mr. Manningham, the obvious villain of the piece, with a restrained ordinariness that in the final analysis makes him every bit as chilling as the hamm-y Vincent Price (in the original) or the debonair Charles Boyer (of the movie version). Carol Schultz is a lovely and effective wife in distress with just enough of a manic gleam in her eyes to put you in suspense as to just how she'll handle her grand finale. In an article in the company's always informative newsletter, Ms. Schultz herself wondered about how she'd bring it off and I'm happy to report that she has done it with great aplomb. She also mentioned the challenge of avoiding a nervous giggle when her stage husband is scaring her to death and to keep from laughing when Dan Daily as the intrepid policeman come to the rescue is so funny. Mr. Daily's Rough is indeed excrutiatingly funny -- someone ought to write a Masterpiece Mystery series around him! -- and Ms. Schultz manages to hide all but a very occasional twitch of the lip. The two maids -- Margot White as Nancy the nasty flirt and Katherine Doyle as the loyal Elizabeth -- also contribute to the overall excellence.
As already stated, Angel Street is hardly a drama of significant social or literary value. But the two hours and ten minutes (including intermission) that you'll spend with the Manningham's and police officer Rough will fly by without a moment's boredom.
CurtainUp's Night Must Fall review