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Mad or Mad!

Opening Mendocino Theatre Company's 

2015 — 2016 Season — Gaslight

by Patrick Hamilton, directed by Stephen Dedola

8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 

some Sundays, through April 12.

* * *

MTC's production of Gaslight is superb, from well-turned out performances, to the Victorian period Set, costumes, makeup, hair, the music, and of course, gas lights that brighten and dim. First nights are not always so great. This one was. I left feeling a certain thrill, part of a secret, on the cutting — did I say slashing? — edge of knowing something that only the rather full-house-for-a-Thursday evening, knew. We had witnessed something special.

The cast was first class, standing for a long curtain call, returning for a second resounding accolade. Director S. Dedola, must be applauded as well. The show is integrated with quietly layered nuances of character that, on one hand, beset us with suspense, and on the other, with pure torture, and surprisingly, on yet another, with a character so funny, we are taken aback, surprised!
No need to worry. There's only a reference or two to the bloody English murder that was a central point, though not the main theme. The murder is the reason that the Inspector enters to save-the-day in no uncertain melodramatic terms. To say a whole lot more of what happens and how the who-done-it resolves, would spoil. Many will recall, however dimly, the classic film with Bergman, Boyer, Cotton and teenager Angela Lansbury. It left an essence of power and fear that lingers still.

Set in the Victorian model of marriage, Dan Kazloff, all bearded and terribly Victorian and refined in appearance, plays Mr. Manningham, the husband. He offers an aspect of controlled violence that is often so convincing in its appearance of goodness, it's good to be reminded of its diabolical nature.
Pamela W. Allen, plays Mrs. Manningham, the young, naïve and trusting wife. Two sides of the pendulum, she projects feelings of trust and doubt that swing back and forth for us all to see and feel. Pamela is superb as she reveals a process of shifting the character's bits of personal and deeply held core belief as if they were a misplaced piece of treasured jewelry, lost and found again.

There is a definite edge of suspense in this production that is so well crafted, the audience, instead of standing back in fear, rather becomes immersed in somewhat eternal questions. Who to trust? What is real? The script and the characters subtly tune us in to our emotional landscape, as we wonder, if, when, and how Mrs M. will find herself again. How do we we find ourselves again?

Thank goodness for comic relief. Not pure and simple, but melodramatically clever. Inspector Rough, was in the very rightest of hands. Steven Jordan brings a vaudevillian aspect to the Inspector, but without the da-da-dada-da-da. True to the intention of the show, this character's frankness is refreshing and relieves us of the manipulative offerings of Mr. M. Despite emotional subtlety, the play is otherwise very direct. Inspector Rough makes it so. He brings us home to our true self, banishes fear and dark spirits. A reaffirmation instilled, perhaps distilled, like a draught of healing spirits, a dram of Scotch whiskey.

There are two other characters, both servants in the Manningham home. Opposite ends of a spectrum — dalliance and loyalty, gossip & discretion —loose tongues and tight lips, adolescence and maturity. Nancy and Elizabeth.

Nancy, played perfectly by Isla Bowery, the flirtatious 19 year old, is a place-holder for the unseen dalliances of Mr. M. Like many teens, she has secrets she loves to reveal. Having lead the Inspector, through gossipy chit-chat, to his discoveries, she is an unwitting tribute to transparency.

Elizabeth, also played so perfectly, by Lorry Lepaule, is the place-holder for the contained loyalty she quietly gives to Mrs. M. She knowingly brings the Inspector into the home and speaks her truth even when she wittingly obfuscates for the the sake of protection.

From the program: Mendocino Theatre Companies Season's theme — It’s All About YOU! 

From the earliest Greek plays to contemporary American shows, great theatre has always involved the exploration of human relationships. As an audience, we come to theatre not just for entertainment, but for an empathetic reflection of a shared human experience. When we laugh, we laugh at what rings true. When we cry, we cry because our own experiences lead us to commiserate with the characters on stage. We are moved by that which we find familiar. 

For tix, call (707) 937-4477 or go to www.mendocinotheatre.org

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