Gaslight | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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GASLIGHT, TimeLine Theatre Company, at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ. Patrick Hamilton's 1938 thriller about a Victorian Englishman who tries to drive his wife crazy has not aged well. What seems most horrifying about this play today is not the husband's serpentine cleverness but how little freedom his wife has in her own home: he's able to leave every night to do God knows what while she must come up with a good reason for going to go to bed early. In the late 30s and early 40s this rigidity must have added to Hamilton's suspense: poor Mrs. Manningham trusts her husband with her life and he abuses that trust. But in our eyes it's as intolerable to be cooped up by a society that won't let you work, vote, or otherwise act like an adult as it is to be duped by a rogue spouse.

In this TimeLine production director Nick Bowling does what he can to turn Hamilton's play into a thriller. Kevin Hagan's set establishes the cage Mrs. Manningham's house has become. And Andrew Hansen's score underlines the story's tension even when the performances don't: Bowling's cast seems at a total loss. David Parkes has none of the magnetism needed to make his villain engaging and thus truly threatening--his tirades only make him seem like a bully. And Juliet Hart never seems vulnerable or frightened enough to be a potential victim and thus elicit our pity and fear. --Jack Helbig

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