Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 10, 2017


Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through October 22, 2017
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Scott Barrow
Undeniably, the best tales of psychological suspense were those in black & white; i.e. movies. Films, primarily from the mid-1930’s-1950’s, provided the ideal canvas for sinister, manipulative, crafty stories. Probably, most readers of this review have seen the film version of Patrick Hamilton’s play, “Gaslight” – surely the benchmark tale of pure cerebral evil. Think Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman; yes, that’s the one.

Precise, impeccable, and intelligent husband Jack and irresponsible, dull, and confused wife Bella live in a large mid-19th century home. Every wall and most furnishings are brown. From the play’s start, the dark façade, coupled with macabre violin notes, are intriguing clues. At its crux, Jack’s goal, disguised under the cloak of care and concern, is to make Bella think that she is insane. [In fact, the verb “gaslight” was coined from the original 1938 play, then 1944 movie.] Jack is obviously doing a damn good job of it; we see this pathetic, duped woman, sinking into madness.

“Gaslight” features three primary characters: Jack, Bella, and Inspector Rough. In smaller, yet important roles are their two women servants. Having seen Mark H. Dold (Jack) in several Barrington shows, I knew that in demeanor, looks, voice, grin, playfulness, and concentration to minutia of each element, no other actor could fit the part. Jack must be precise and calculating always. Dold portrays cunning and controlling with capital “Cs” as his character proceeds in his unstoppable mission. Kim Stauffer (Bella) is not quite Dold’s match, although her character is never intended to equal that of Jack, either. Stauffer comes on strong in Act I as unassertive and pitiful. As the play proceeds, it is a bit unclear if Stauffer depicts Bella as silly or truly at the brink of despair. The latter is what the audience needs to see. Kevin O’Rourke (Inspector) represents a tough, determined man with a cold case on his hands. O’Rourke’s dialog offers him snippets of humor which come naturally from his role. It is also O’Rourke’s job to provide the exposition of the plot. This becomes talky, but the actor is an excellent storyteller with a resonant voice.

Director Louisa Proske, somewhat of a Barrington regular, is skilled at focusing on new plays, most fast paced and situated on unusual sets. It is clear she has a deft hand at a classic, as well, especially in her complex movements of Jack in Act II.

Listening to remarks of many audience members exiting the theatre, the common thought was, “I’ve got to see the movie, again.”