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LA Theater Review


The name of the producing company befits this moldy 1938 British melodrama. Though the 1944 George Cukor film version is generally considered a classic, this long-winded tale of extreme mental cruelty, and worse, hasn't aged well. Originally presented in three acts, Patrick Hamilton's script is an overwritten exercise in Grand Guignol histrionics, bordering on camp. Director Charlie Mount's revival provides compensations in the committed performances of an accomplished cast and an evocative design.

This is the one about the villainous lout who is working feverishly to drive his wife insane, and that's only one of his despicable acts. In 1880 London, Jack Manningham (John Cygan) plays vicious tricks on his hysterical wife, Bella (Corinne Shor). He makes her think she is forgetting things and rattles her nerves with the flickering gaslight, which he controls from another room. One day, when Jack is out, kindly Inspector Rough (Don Moss) calls upon Bella, shedding light on Jack's schemes, which include his obsession with finding long-lost jewels, believed to be stashed in the house. The inspector also reveals a murder that Jack committed years earlier. At that point, the play begins rehashing and dwelling on obvious points. The unmitigated evil of Jack's character and the timeless themes of oppression against women are intriguing, but this overwrought script would benefit from aggressive pruning.

Thankfully, Cygan knows exactly how to play the man we love to hate. He strikes a formidable figure in top hat and flowing black cape—Lucifer incarnate. His portrayal is simultaneously chilling and morbidly funny. Though Shor is stuck playing a whimpering damsel-in-distress most of the way through, the actor ultimately elicits our empathy. It's a joy to see her muster up her character's dormant strengths when the chips are down. Moss is marvelous as the methodical and drolly amusing detective. Emily Bridges and Mary Garripoli give colorful portrayals in funny supporting roles as two servants. Jeff G. Rack's set, Yancey Dunham's lighting, Mount's sound effects, and attire from Valentino's Costumes eloquently illuminate the time, place, and spooky mood.

Presented by Chestnuts Productions at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A. Aug. 28Sept. 27. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (323) 851-7977.

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