Dorset Players open 92nd season with popular 'Gaslight'

Local community troupe excels with longtime Broadway classic

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DORSET — The Dorset Players, one of the nation's oldest continuously running community theater companies, continues its fabled run of success by opening their 92nd campaign with Patrick Hamilton's "Gaslight."

The play is also known by its original 1938 "Angel Street" moniker and has become synonymous with the cruel act of gaslighting, or trying to induce madness in another person by convincing them through deceitful manipulation, of actually being insane.

The show, directed by Player stalwart Janet Groom, and produced by Lynne Worth, will run through Oct. 13.

The story finds us in 1880s London, in the Manningham house on Angel Street, and centers around Bella Manningham (Kristen Kimball), who suffers from what she believes are early stages of insanity. Her husband, Jack (Jeff Cox), struggles to help her, and spends his evenings out on the town in order to cope. Or so he makes her believe. As the plot unfolds Detective Rough (Paul Michael Brinker) enters the scene.

Rounding out the intriguing household are the maid Nancy (Joelle Greenland) and housekeeper Elizabeth (Leslie Bremner), while two policemen (Paul Thompson and Don Peterson) also enter the mix before all is said and done.

What follows is the reason Hamilton's play is the longest running non-musical to have appeared on Broadway, and one of the top psychological thrillers of all time. (The story also yielded two classic movie versions in the 1940s).

Groom, who was careful to add an extensive historical addendum to the evening's playbill to provide context to the status of women's rights in Victorian England, had her actors primed and ready to go, much to the audience's delight.

For their short time on stage, Thompson and Peterson were fun as near caricatures of the London bobbies of their day.

Likewise, Bremner elegantly flashed an accent from the north while moving deftly in and out of the Manningham's space. For her part, Greenland captured a more earthy Cockney arrogance as a maid with designs on the master of the house, a wenchiness very well played on the border of drama and kitsch.

Kimball was absolutely convincing in her distress and disorientation of a gaslighting victim, and she beautifully portrayed a twist in the play's final scene which had audiences guessing to final curtain - that's top shelf acting.

For his part as the gaslighter, Cox was so detestable and such a cad on stage that he drew massive boos during the well-deserved standing ovation, which is the ultimate sign of respect from a live audience that the villain - make no mistake about that - absolutely did his job, and then some.

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Finally, Brinker yet again shows why his stage presence alone is worth the price of admission to Dorset Players show, regardless of role. His dynamically delivered comebacks, his marvelously self-centered musings, and his overall powerful body language held sway as we have come to expect from him, to the point, almost, of spoiling us with the ever present expectation of a flawless delivery.

The play ran for about two hours, which included a 15-minute intermission.

Lynne Worth's production support was tireless — and meticulously planned, given that she was out of the country. Set designers Drew Hill and Mona Wightman once again showed how The Players lead even top professional companies in this department. Patty Greene Pawelczyk's stage management adeptly handled the plethora of moving pieces in this play.

Lights by Angie Merwin and David McAneny, and costumes by Suzi Dorgeloh and Cherie Thompson all hit their marks.

While "Gaslight" has enjoyed a run of success that is the envy of any playwright, it has also added to the important conversation with regards to psychological abuse, which is often far more subtle than physical torment, but can leave behind just as deep — if not deeper — scars.

The fact that this story goes in depth to expose it, as well as the very moderate ticket prices, should be enough reason to go take in "Gaslight."

But from a bigger picture point of view: say this number to yourself out loud: 92. That's ninety-two. As in seasons this theater troupe has received tremendous community support and has been able to bring high quality productions to the public at very modest prices.

I have mentioned this before, and I will repeat it here: It's hard to keep anything running for nine weeks, let alone nine years. But to get to a 92nd birthday in community theater, everyone right down to the last stage hand will tell you that without huge amounts of generosity and largess of both spirit and of pocketbook, it just doesn't happen.

The good people of the Northshire, both the countless official sponsors over the decades as well as myriad individual members and donors of The Players, have made the staging of classic productions which have dominated Broadway, such as "Gaslight," possible. So attendance is not a matter of appreciating the creative aesthetic; it's also a matter of critical, yet also heartwarming support.

The Dorset Players make it easy by putting on one exceptional show after another, and "Gaslight" falls right in line with this ethos.

Now do the rest, and go support this fine production.

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Assn. (ATCA). Email: tchalkias@aol.com; Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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