Colonial Players revisit dark story on `Angel Street'

Victorian mystery tops company's 50th season

May 13, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Colonial Players completes its 50th season this month with "Angel Street," a mystery set in Victorian London first performed by the company in 1950 and again in 1972 as "Gaslight."

Much of the first act drags because it is centered around two tiresome stereotypes: Bella Manningham (played by Dianne Hood), a depressed woman confined to her home and desperate for the approval of her husband, who is trying to convince her she is mad; and Nancy (Jan Kleckner), the saucy maid competing for Jack Manningham's attention. Jack, of course, is a cad.

Enter Inspector Rough (played by Duncan Hood, Dianne's husband) and the play comes to life.

Gradually, Rough unravels the mystery of Jack's past and the closed off third floor of the house he and Bella live in. There is such skilled interplay between the Hoods' Bella and Inspector that we see Bella grow before our eyes from a clinging bowl of gelatin reluctant to accept the truth about Jack, into a strong, vengeful woman.

All actors give convincing portrayals. In his Colonial Players debut, Brad Tresek so captures the villainous Jack Manningham that he is hissed by the audience in later scenes and at his final bow.

Dianne Hood, a veteran of 23 Colonial Players productions, is superb, and Duncan Hood is a total joy as Inspector Rough. Kleckner and Anna Walker, who plays the loyal maid, Elizabeth, give well-rounded portrayals of the servants.

The sets and lighting are better than usual, pulling the audience into an authentic Victorian living room with flickering gaslights.

All in all, "Angel Street" is a winning conclusion to a golden season that included shows from each of Colonial Players first five decades.

Looking back, I'd rank the season's opener, N. Richard Nash's "The Rainmaker," near the top. This 1954 play about a con man who convinces Depression era, drought-stricken farmers he can bring rain displayed some of CP's major strengths. We saw an accurate portrayal of an era, a strong cast, and the introduction of a bright new talent in a major role with the debut of Anna Ellis.

The second show, "On Golden Pond," first done in CP's 1981-82 season, had the same strengths. Here was an added bonus for the predominantly mature matinee audience, who could appreciate the gallows humor expressed by the elderly leads.

"Barefoot in the Park" was a pleasant diversion with lots of laughs, although I found author Neil Simon's depiction of the young bride superficial and shallow, which may indicate some personal growth. This is another reward of CP's season of hits from each of its past decades; it allows us to recall where we were when these plays were first produced, and to assess how far we've come.

Unfortunately, I missed the season's only musical, "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well," but I heard it was well done and up to CP's usual high musical standards.

"Angel Street" continues Thursdays through Sundays at Colonial Players Theatre, 108 East St., Annapolis. Information: 410- 268-7373.

Pub Date: 5/13/99

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