Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Fountain Hills Theater
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Sister Act, Spamalot and Lizzie

Lauren Miller, Lisa Barnes, and Mark Hackmann
Photo by Gil Berry
Sometimes it can be very interesting when you discover the origin of words. For example, the term "gaslighting," where an individual intentionally manipulates someone to doubt their own perceptions so they become disoriented or distressed, can be traced to Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gaslight (originally Gas Light). That play (probably best known in the United States for its 1944 Hollywood film adaptation) had a healthy run in London and on Broadway (as Angel Street) and centers on a recently married couple. The husband is suspected of manipulating his wife into believing she is going insane for his own personal gain. Fountain Hills Theater's production of this well-crafted thriller features a good cast, impressive direction, and superb creative elements.

The play is set entirely in one evening in a home in London in 1880. Bella Manningham's life has lately been a rollercoaster of emotions as her husband insists that she is beginning to lose her mind just like her mother did. While Jack has been away at work or at his club and their servants have been busy with their duties, Bella has been alone in the main rooms of their house and has witnessed items mysteriously going missing and paintings moved from the walls. She even claims that the gas lights in the room are strangely dimming on their own when no one touches them. Could Bella be suffering just like her mother? When a strange man appears on her doorstep one evening, it appears there may be another explanation for the strange occurrences.

While Hamilton sets the play in a single room in the Manningham home, which could make it a fairly static drama, his dialogue and plot elements provide plenty of intrigue. He has also crafted interesting characters. Even though the plot may be somewhat predictable, and the 1944 film adaptation made many changes to the original script, including adding in several new twists in the plot and delayed the disclosure of whether or not Jack is making his wife believe she's going mad until much later than it's revealed in the play, there is still plenty of intrigue and dramatic moments in Hamilton's original script.

Ben Tyler's direction delivers good and consistent performances from the small cast. He also wisely stages most of the action close to the audience, which pulls them into the play. As Jack Manningham, Tom Koelbel is appropriately cunning and manipulative, with occasional scary and loud outbursts that shock. As Bella, Lisa Barnes is continually on edge, frantic and uncertain, but also joyful and happy at times, as she displays a wide range of emotions. Mark Hackmann is direct and charming as the mysterious man, Sergeant Rough, who pays Bella a visit. Koelbel, Barnes, and Hackmann are all great, with performances that are engaging and realistic. As Nancy, the maid who takes a shine to Mr. Manningham, Isabelle Bandt is flirty and fun and, with downtrodden eyes that perfectly depict her place in the English class system, Lauren Miller is wonderful as Elizabeth, the Manningham's housekeeper.

Peter J. Hill's impressive set design steeps the action in a well-adorned Victorian-era drawing room and his lighting works well for the changing moods and shifting tones in the drama. The costumes by Noel Irick and Jane Collins are gorgeous and period perfect. James Rowe's dialect coaching delivers appropriate and consistent accents from the whole cast.

With a good cast and solid direction, Fountain Hills' production of this well-written drama is rich in atmospheric touches, with a brooding and heightened sense of doom as the evening progresses, the truths are revealed, and the deceptions exposed.

Gaslight runs through October 30, 2022, at Fountain Hills Theater, 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills AZ. For information and tickets, please visit or call 480-837-9661.

Director: Ben Tyler
Set and Lighting Design: Peter J. Hill
Sound Design: Ben Tyler
Costume Design: Noel Irick and Jane Collins
Properties: Patty Torrilhon and Allison Hacker
Production Manager: Patty Torrilhon
Dialect Coach: James Rowe
Hair and Makeup Design: Marybeth Ingram and Patsy Johnson
Stage Manager: Lauren Miller

Mr. Manningham: Tom Koelbel
Bella Manningham: Lisa Barnes
Sergeant Rough: Mark Hackmann
Nancy: Isabelle Bandt
Elizabeth: Lauren Miller Policemen: Randy Beard, Scott Hyder,