Gaslight II

Last show of Timber Lake Playhouse “Gaslight” finishes a summer that seemed the best yet. The 55th season of the professional theatre in the woods wowed sellout audiences that began with “Gypsy” and built steam through poignant “Having Our Say, The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” roaring “Rock of Ages,” riotous “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and recently produced “Titanic,” a musical peak of excellence and feather in the cap of artistic director James Beaudry.
Moreover, the regular cast of performers throughout the summer also seemed to be the best yet. Professional, extraordinarily talented and versatile as each stepped up to their role performing one show while rehearsing the next. There was no such thing as soloists with a chorus underneath; they were ALL soloists in their own right.
But don’t go away yet! Final show “Gaslight” calms the vibratos and cranks up the chills. This Victorian thriller envisions what happens when writers are challenged to fill in the rest of the mystery after, “It was a dark and stormy night…”
The play was written by Patrick Hamilton, an English playwright and novelist famous for his creations of what we might coin the “underbelly” of British culture as seen through his own experiences. “Gaslight,” known as “Angel Street” on Broadway, explores the artificiality of the upper crust coming face to face with perhaps a Jack-the-Ripper-esque effect of about the same era in the 1880’s of London – all under one roof.
This is a debut as director for oft-called TLP favorite Cody Jolly. He approaches the challenge with great depth using his professional experience in Chicago as well as his long resume of characters at TLP, including hysterical roles in “Young Frankenstein,” “Peter Pan” and “Greater Tuna,” a play that he was especially designed for. As each director develops a personal style, Jolly will develop his also when it comes to that magic removal of the fourth wall.
The play is about the head of an immense household Jack Manningham as he becomes master of fraud and attempts to convince wife Bella that she is slowly losing her mind. With the entrances and exits of maids and a detective, the mystery develops.
The role of Jack is handsomely portrayed by Kieran McCabe, a frequent attraction this TLP season especially as Senex in ‘Forum,’ and slick rocker in “Rock of Ages.” For Manningham, he absorbs the body language of proper British stance, with one arm behind and maybe one eye toward a certain maid, Nancy, by Olivia Kaufmann following her stellar work in “Gypsy” and “Titanic.” Kaufmann works this maid role with the dual effect of prim and proper, but turned hussy at a moment’s glance.
Guest actor Melissa Weyn returns to TLP after her previous work in “Les Miserables,” “Shout!” in ’14 and most recently as Lucy in Off-Broadway role “Jekyll and Hyde.” She plays wife Bella in “Gaslight” using all the conflicting images of going crazy, yet not going crazy. Her crisp British accent and emotional outbursts are carefully controlled by acceptable Victorian behavior, yet easily foiled by a swig of Scotch.
Also guest Chicago-based actor Shaina Schrooten joins the “Gaslight” cast as maid “Elizabeth.” It will be her first appearance at TLP, and perhaps not the last.
Sergeant Rough, a purveyor of truth in this thriller, is played by Ken Singleton of previously very strong roles this TLP season. His work in ‘Forum’ as Gloriosus and duet with Kaufmann in “Titanic” was especially notable. He takes on this heavy-duty role of authority with some sprinkles of lightheartedness with ease.
For arresting Officers as extras to throw into costume, it’s always handy to grab stage manager Mary-Catherine Mikalayunas and carpenter Nicholas Christopher Giambrone.
Thrills and chills are enhanced by main characters of lighting, set design and creepy sound design. Lighting by Riley Wood strikes immediate fear with a haunting image of fright embodied in Bella in opening scene. Characters thereafter fade or fear the gaslights whether lit or unlit. Set design by Tucker Topel is most Victorian with busy wallpaper and fringy furniture where you can just imagine a London fog outside the entrance of the grand household. The set also includes the disquieting catwalk above rather than the stage turntable in previous shows.
Sound design by Kevin Johnson provides those mysterious footsteps in the catwalk as well as creaks and an ongoing pulse of thunder mixed with a backdrop of musical tease.
Twists, turns and nightmares await, don’t miss “Gaslight,” opening tonight and continuing 11 more performances through August 21 including four 2 p.m. matinees. Evening shows at 7:30 p.m. (No show Monday August 15.) The boonies theatre is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or for tickets, group rates and more information. Don’t miss the cash bar before and during the show!