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Gas Light (known in the USA as Angel Street) is a 1938 play by the British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. The play (and its film adaptations) gave rise to the term gaslighting with the meaning "a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making him/her doubt his/her own memory and perception". Although it was never explicitly confirmed, many critics and scholars see the play and its adaptations as subtle retellings of the Bluebeard folk tale.
The play is set in fog-bound London in 1880 at the lower middle class home of Jack Manningham and his wife Bella. It is late afternoon, a time which Hamilton notes as being the time "before the feeble dawn of gaslight and tea".
At the opening of the drama Bella is clearly on edge, and the stern reproaches from her overbearing husband (who flirts with the servants) makes matters worse. What most perturbs Bella is Jack's unexplained disappearances from the house: he will not tell her where he is going, and this increases her anxiety. As the drama unfolds, it becomes clear that Jack is intent on convincing Bella that she is going insane, even to the point of assuring her she is "imagining" the gas light in the house is dimming.
The appearance of a police detective called Rough soon leads Bella to realise that Jack is responsible for her torment. Rough explains that the apartment above was once occupied by one Alice Barlow, a wealthy woman who was murdered for her jewels but that the murderer never uncovered them.
In fact, Jack goes to the flat each night, searching for the jewels and causing the light in the house below to go down. Rough convinces Bella to assist him in exposing Jack as the murderer, which she does, but not before she takes revenge on Jack by pretending to help him escape. At the last minute she reminds him that, having gone insane, she is not accountable for her actions. The play closes with Jack Manningham being led away by the police.
The play, titled Gas Light, premiered in London in December 1938 and ran for six months.
Angel Street (US title) premiered on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre on 5 December 1941, transferred to the Bijou Theatre on 2 October 1944, and closed on 30 December 1944 after 1295 performances. Directed by Shepard Traube, the cast featured Leo G. Carroll (Rough), Florence Edney (Elizabeth), Elizabeth Eustis (Nancy), Judith Evelyn (Mrs. Manningham) and Vincent Price (Mr. Manningham).
The play ran at New York City Center from 22 January 1948 to 1 February 1948, for 14 performances. Directed by Richard Barr, the cast featured José Ferrer (Mr. Manningham), Uta Hagen (Mrs. Manningham), Phyllis Hill (Nancy), Nan McFarland (Elizabeth), Ralph Roberts (Policeman), Victor Thorley (Policeman) and Richard Whorf (Rough).
The play was revived on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre opening on 26 December 1975 and closing on 8 February 1976 after 52 performances and 4 previews. Again directed by Shepard Traube, the cast featured Michael Allinson (Mr. Manningham), Dina Merrill (Mrs. Manningham), Christine Andreas (Nancy), Bette Henritze (Elizabeth) and Robert E. Thompson (Rough).
The play was produced at the Old Vic, London, in June 2007 (under the title of Gaslight). Directed by Peter Gill, the cast featured Andrew Woodall as Mr. Manningham, Rosamund Pike as Mrs. Manningham and Kenneth Cranham as Rough.
The play was produced Off-Broadway (as Gaslight) by the Irish Repertory Theatre, running from 17 May 2007 to 8 July 2007. Directed by Charlotte Moore, the cast featured David Staller (Mr. Manningham), Laura Odeh (Mrs. Manningham), Laoisa Sexton (Nancy), Patricia O'Connell (Elizabeth), April Ann Klein (Police Officer) and Brian Murray (Rough). The production received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination, Outstanding Featured Actor (Brian Murray), and Drama League Award nominations for Distinguished Revival of a Play and Distinguished Performance Award (David Staller).
Louis Kronenberger wrote in his review of the 1948 City Center production that "it remains one of the better thrillers...let's call it one of the best. All the same, though it holds up nicely for three acts, it seems to me outstandingly good for only one." Brooks Atkinson, in The New York Times, is quoted as writing "As a creepshow, Patrick Hamilton's Victorian melodrama remains close to the top of the class."
The New York Times reviewer of the 2007 production wrote:
David Staller plays this undesirable husband as a man whose lust exempts nothing. Every time he appears onstage, you think: keep this person away from my babysitter and Rolex. Mr. Staller’s rogue posture modulates his character’s cruelty, leavening the play’s potentially stifling mood. Mr. Hamilton believed our most dangerous enemies were always in the room with us..., and his work can feel claustrophobic. Ms. Moore is aware of this, providing the proper ventilation to clear much of the Victorian must. Brian Murray, playing the detective who uncovers Manningham’s plan, is her greatest asset in this regard. He appears onstage with the red cheeks of a Santa Claus, an ageing imp who hides out in nooks and corners, showing a benevolent sarcasm that teases Bella out of her dimwitted complacency.
It remains a perennial favourite with both repertory and amateur theatre companies.
Film and television adaptations
The play Gas Light was adapted for film twice: the 1940 British film Gaslight, directed by Thorold Dickinson, and the 1944 American film of the same name, directed by George Cukor. When the British film version was released in America, it played as Angel Street, the New York title for the original British play, to avoid confusion with the American film.
Pop Culture References
Gas Light was referenced in the US television show Elementary, in the episode called "Déjà Vu All Over Again". Sherlock sends a text to a suspect that he knows that the suspect killed his wife, and explains to Watson that what he is doing is called Gaslighting, and that the term comes from this play.
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