REVIEW: “Gaslight” at Cincy Shakes Does Not Dim

By Katrina “Kat” Reynolds

Shining brightly this September on Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s stage is Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight, a new version of the play penned by Steven Dietz. Producing this show in partnership with the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, CSC is blessed to have Courtney Sale at the Director’s helm both for this run as well as the next leg of its journey in Massachusetts.

As mentioned in my season preview, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 30th season is an impressive one. This reviewer is familiar with the story of Gaslight, through the American version by the name of Angel Street. Not only did I have the honor of playing Elizabeth in a local production of Angel Street, but the actor who originated the role of Jack Manningham was Vincent Price. (Many may know him to be the first love of my life.)

Mr. Dietz’s interpretation of the story is an excellent one. He has managed to make it more concise without losing the impact of the story itself. Gaslight tells the story of Bella, who is being psychologically manipulated by her husband Jack so she is convinced she is going mad–thus, the etymology of the term “gaslighting.“ 

The Production Team for Gaslight

Per usual, Scenic Designer Samantha Reno gives us an opulent and aesthetically stunning set. The colors are perfectly chosen to convey a dark and sinister undertone. Not to be outdone, Costume Designer Rainy Edwards’ creations are just as beautiful. Bella’s dress in particular is a visual stand out. Further, Properties Designer Kara Ebele Trusty continues to remind us that her keen eye for detail as well as a knack for choosing pieces which do not hinder the actors’ performances make her one of the most talented artists in this town.

Kristin Yancy as Bella and Jim Hopkins as Sergeant Rough in Gaslight.
Set Design by Samantha Reno for Gaslight. Kristin Yancy as Bella and Jim Hopkins as Sergeant Rough. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The Cast: Standout Performances

It is often difficult to single out specific “wow” moments in a CSC production given the bar to which they hold themselves and this cast is no exception. Boston-based actor Karen MacDonald gives us an excellent performance in the role of Elizabeth. As the older of the two servants, Elizabeth has seen more than her fair share of Bella’s struggles. It is clearly portrayed that she is not only a dutiful domestic, but has a loving support of her mistress, Bella. Ms. MacDonald has excellent chemistry with every single actor in this ensemble and she is simply a delight to watch.

CSC veteran Jim Hopkins gives a flawless performance as Sergeant Rough, a retired inspector from Scotland Yard, determined to solve a decades’ old crime that has never ceased to haunt him. The character is written well: punctuated with the perfect amount of wit, heroism, and sensitivity. Mr. Hopkins is the ideal man for the job. We all need a Sergeant Rough to remind us of the brave people we are when we believe in ourselves the least–or perhaps, we just need more Jim Hopkins in our lives.

Set Design by Samantha Reno for Gaslight
Kristin Yancy as Bella and Jim Hopkins as Sergeant Rough in Gaslight. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The Sweet and Lowdown

While this reviewer feels the term “trigger” can be triggering in itself, it should be mentioned that this show may activate certain reactions in some of us. It is, after all, a story of abuse and manipulation for personal gain. While the original text has been around since the 1930s, Gaslight remains timeless for two very different reasons: in many ways, its message was very much ahead of its time and, unfortunately, psychological abuse still exists. Fortunately, Mr. Dietz’s script has enough light in this dark tale to pull us out of the shadows rather adeptly as we are reminded there is hope in the most bleak of hours. 

Tickets for Gaslight

Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight by Steven Dietz is playing through September 2 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Be sure to reserve your seats online to see this classic piece.