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Tension builds in 'Gaslight'

September 04, 2009|F. Kathleen Foley; Charlotte Stoudt; David Ng

Theatre West resurrects Patrick Hamilton's 1938 thriller "Gaslight" as part of its Chestnuts series, which reintroduces neglected classics to modern-day audiences.

The play, which broke records on Broadway in 1941 under the title "Angel Street," starred Vincent Price as the malevolent Mr. Manningham, an autocratic husband intent upon driving his downtrodden wife to madness. The 1944 film version, starring Charles Boyer as the sociopathic spouse, garnered Ingrid Bergman a best actress Oscar.

Fans of the film will find it fascinating to compare Hamilton's play with the film, whose three credited screenwriters largely improved upon the original -- a rare occurrence in Hollywood adaptations.

Hamilton's decidedly expository play may be creaky at times, but it's the satisfyingly eerie creak of closet doors opening to reveal hidden skeletons. Set designer Jeff G. Rack's Victorian parlor hints at hidden passages leading into darkness, while Yancey Dunham's ominously flickering lighting augments the tension.

Under Charlie Mount's direction, this chestnut has been roasted to a golden turn. You might scorch your fingers a bit on Don Moss as Inspector Rough, the indefatigable sleuth out to bag an elusive old nemesis. Moss, who replaced another actor after the programs were printed, is a bit rough as Rough, but one suspects he will smooth out over the course of the run. Naturally, anyone battling the ghost of Ingrid Berman has an uphill campaign, but if you can master your irritation at her character's initial lack of backbone, you'll find Corinne Shor's Mrs. Manningham tremendously appealing. But the evening's darkest pleasure is John Cygan as the suavely commanding Mr. Manningham, whose masterful creepiness is nothing short of enthralling.

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F. Kathleen Foley --

"Gaslight," Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 27. $22. (323) 851-7977 or www. theatrewest.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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Love triangle between friends

In a bromance, love means never letting chicks threaten your bond. This principle is tested by a tall blond with a bestseller in Paul Grellong's entertaining if insubstantial "Manuscript," now at the Elephant Theatre.

Chris (Patrick J. Adams) introduces his published girlfriend, Elizabeth (Katharine Brandt), to his best buddy, David (Adam Shapiro), an aspiring novelist. The writers trade references, then jabs, and it's soon clear that something else besides a friendly meet is underway. Cue a nasty little tale of plagiarism, opium and other literary pursuits.

Grellong has an ear for educated chat, and Brianna Lee Johnson's direction keeps the action moving briskly. But the play feels too impressed by its own cleverness to ever draw you in. Grellong is more interested in turning plot screws than examining character, so it's ultimately hard to care what happens to these bright but thinly drawn characters. We're watching a fait accompli, not lives in the balance. (Brandt does as well as she can selling her ambitious Ivy Leaguer.)

The pleasure here is the central friendship: The quietly charismatic Adams is excellent playing the self-conscious Chris, and Shapiro brings a jaunty wit to David. You'd like to see these actors in roles that pushed their abilities: say, Hamlet and Horatio? Now there's a revenge story worthy of these talents.

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Charlotte Stoudt --

"Manuscript," The Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Oct. 3. $15. Contact: (323) 960-5774 or www.plays411.net. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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A wacky way to make waves

For a truly nutty stage experience, it's hard to beat the eco-romantic farce "Liquid" at the Unknown Theater in Hollywood.

This comedy about two scientists stranded by a tsunami features risible dialogue, atrocious acting and a barely intelligible plot. The production's awfulness may be deliberate, but then again, it might not be, which is what makes this a fascinatingly failed experiment in anything-goes theater.

Written by Brenda Varda, "Liquid" follows the adventures of Odam (Kyle Ingleman) and Nevah (Daniella Dahman), two scientists working in the same laboratory on a remote Pacific Island. When a tsunami washes them out to sea, both must find a way back to civilization with the help of anthropomorphic dolphins, mer-people and a flotilla of waterborne senior citizens.

The production references the Old Testament, "The Tempest" and the 1995 movie "Waterworld." Its vision of a planet in complete ecological meltdown is often marvelous to behold, thanks to some clever visual effects by director Chris Covics.

Audiences who show up under the influence will likely find a lot to love about "Liquid." The rest of us will probably walk away wondering exactly how much of the play's kamikaze aesthetic was intentional.

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David Ng --

"Liquid," Unknown Theater, 110 Seward St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 3. $18. (323) 466-7781 or www.unknowntheater.com. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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