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Paulanne Simmons

The Irish Rep Takes on a Victorian Thriller

Directed by Charlotte Moore
The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd St. (between 6th and 7th avenues)
Opened May 17, 2007
Tues. thru Sat. 8 p.m., matinees, Wed., Sat., & Sun. 3 p.m.
$60 and $55 (212) 727-2737
Closes July 8, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 2, 2007

For ''Gaslight,'' its last show of the season, The Irish Repertory Theatre has turned its stage into the parlor of a Victorian mansion, fussy with overstuffed chairs and a chaise longue, and filled with bric-a-brac and framed pictures. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there's something very wrong with the people who live in this prosaic house.

Mr. Manningham (David Staller), a good-looking man-about-town, treats his wife (Laura Odeh) with undisguised condescension and barely disguised intimidation. He claims to have discovered irrefutable evidence of Mrs. Manningham's approaching insanity (her unfortunate mother died in an insane asylum), mostly evidenced by forgetfulness and the misplacing of object which later miraculously turn up. But the audience knows from the start that something fishy is going on.

It isn't until Rough (Brian Murray), a former police officer, enters on the scene, like a fairy godmother on a mission of justice and revenge, that suspicions are confirmed. From then on the play becomes a gripping gothic thriller involving an unsolved murder, missing jewels and a wealthy dowager.

''Gaslight,'' in plot and tone, seems to be a riveting cross between the cozy, often amusing mysteries of Agatha Christie and the psychological thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. Actually it was written in 1838 by the British playwright, Patrick Hamilton. And in fact, Hitchcock did turn one of Hamilton's plays, ''Rope's End,'' into the 1948 film, ''Rope,'' starring James Stewart and loosely based on the Loeb-Leopold case. But it was George Cukor who made the film version of ''Gaslight,'' in 1944. Ingrid Bergman won an Academy Award for her performance in the film.

The formidable Charlotte Moore is at her best in ''Gaslight.'' She directs with a firm and steady hand, never losing track or letting up on the mood of genteel terror that pervades this script. She is immensely aided by James Morgan's set with its flickering and ominous gaslights and Mark Hartman's eerie music. Martha Hally's Victorian costumes are a pleasure to behold.

But most of all, it is Odeh who has everyone on the edge of his seat wondering what she, in her vulnerable, hypersensitive state, will do next; and Murray whose fumbling sang-froid and jocular good-will keeps the play on the right side of melodrama.

Laoisa Sexton as Laura the saucy and seductive parlor maid, and Patricia O'Connell as the faithful and staid servant provide a good contrast in domestic help of the time and give the plot texture and a few additional twists.

Except for the fact that Hamilton was born on St. Patrick's Day and the maids are both Irish, it's hard to see exactly why this play met the requirements of The Irish Rep's mission. But the production is so engaging it's impossible not to be grateful they chose it despite its thin ties to the Emerald Isle.

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