Arts Listings

‘Angel Street’ at the Masquers Playhouse

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday January 29, 2008

In a Victorian parlor, a querulous wife (Michelle Pond as Bella Manningham) feels things are slipping away from her grasp, though she’s unable to explain how or why, while her prepossessing husband (David Shirk as Jack Manningham), in quiet, gentle tones or with impatience, treats her as a child, whether a naughty one or a child unaware of the import of what she’s doing. 

Bella’s fear is that she—like her late mother—is losing her mind. And her husband supplies the proof of it: household items squirreled away which Bella has no memory of moving out of their accustomed place.  

The maidservants are the witnesses. Jack even calls them in to testify—loyal Elizabeth (Jean Rose) with supportive words, saucy young Nancy (Heather Morrison) with condescension and a smirk. 

But while the master of the house is out, an eccentric stranger comes calling. Introducing himself as Rough (Norman Macleod), a neighbor, the gentleman declares to Bella that the trouble isn’t in her mind, but in what he knows happened, a long time ago, in the house. 

Like a moth between two candles, Bella orbits between two stories, as the plot thickens when the gaslight goes low. 

“Gaslight,” that lurid brightness at night before electricity, is the title the Masquers production of Patrick Hamilton’s Angel Street is best known by. Alfred Hitchcock’s film of that name took that popular potboiler beyond the constraints of theatrical runs and word-of-mouth, to an enduring recognition. And the gaslights in the parlor themselves signal the changes in this hypnotic duel of wills that does seem to be a battle of darkness with light. 

Michelle Pond, longtime Masquer, who just played flirtacious Nancy Twinkle in that farce to end all light opera, Little Miss Sunshine, fulfills the vow set down in her program bio, giving up “hamming it up” in musicals to “simply let this fabulous script take me on this sad, frightening and hopeful journey each night.” She takes the audience along with her, truly the subject in every sense. 

David Shirk plays Jack less with an air of mystery than as a man self-assured to the point of complete self-absorption, difficult to read until he plays his hand—an admirable characterization in this kind of melodrama. 

And Norman Macleod brings an analytical seriousness to what becomes, as he describes it, a labrynthine predicament. It’s a bit lightened by his whimsicality, the only levity in Bella’s grim dilemma. 

Patricia Inabnet’s direction sets the tone from which the drama evolves. Rob Bradshaw’s sober, matter-of-fact set provides grounding along with Debbi Sandmann’s lights and Jerry Telfer’s sound design. Jo Lusk’s costumes, so important to establish period, class and character, seem impeccable. 

When players greet the audience in the lobby after the show, the mood lifts, and it’s like waking from a dream. An old-time entertainment has done its work; the Masquers have conducted their visitors on a seance through Victorian shadows. 


Angel Street 

Masquers Playhouse 

105 Park Place, Richmond 

Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. 

through Feb. 23 

Tickets $18, 232-4031