Kansas City Kansas Community College’s production of Angel Street

Breaking down KCKCC’s production of “Angel Street” is a task that at first seemed rather daunting. Though I found the play to be entertaining, the themes of the play seemed to be elusive at first. Obviously there were elements of murder, betrayal, lust, and control, but what was it that the author, Patrick Hamilton, was trying to say with his play? What deep rooted lessons were there to learn?

Beyond the thematic elements of the play, aspects of lighting, costuming, actors preparedness and performance, set design, and sound quality, all seemed easy enough to interpret but I was still lacking any real truths that seemed to carry beyond the storyline. I couldn’t very well explain that the play taught us that murder is wrong and justice will eventually catch up with us.

Just as I couldn’t feel good about citing that Hamilton was trying to say “just because you think you’re going mad doesn’t mean you are, you may just be married to an evil wretch who is trying to push you out of the way”. These didn’t seem much like themes worthy of stating. So what then, if these are not the lessons learned, are we really to learn?

Though there are many themes hidden throughout the play the one that seems to strike me most is the thought that sometimes that which we long for the most is right in front of our nose. In the case of the lost rubies that motivate Mr. Manningham to commit murder, betrayal, and deception, I find it funny that he possessed the rubies all along.

The same thing holds true of Mrs. Manningham’s desperate search to regain her sanity; something she had never lost in the first place. I think this is something that we all fall victim to from time to time. Recognizing this about ourselves can lead us to much fuller and rewarding lives.

Giving by far the most effective performance of the play, Rhiannon Birdsall’s portrayal of Mrs. Manningham was breathtaking. Every line was delivered with an eloquent grace that is rare even in the most talented and professional productions. Her timing was impeccable and she used her space with machine-like precision. She did not simply understand her character, she became that character.

She believed that she indeed was Mrs. Manningham which left the audience the simple task of just enjoying the moment without the struggle of “getting into” the character. Her performance, which in all logical thought should have made the other less talented actors look excessively bad in comparison, somehow seemed to make excuses for the rest of the cast. It seemed to make their much less convincing performances seem okay.

Brett Culbert’s portrayal of Mr. Manningham was much less convincing. His lines lacked conviction and he hardly seemed to be the type of person who would have been capable of plotting, no less carrying out the ruse to convince his wife that her sanity was failing. Never-the-less there were moments when he did become the character even if he didn’t fully understand it. He had his believable moments though they were usually short lived and far between.

To think that Kim Wheeler’s portrayal of Nancy was what Hamilton had in mind when he wrote the part would be insulting. Her character was far from flirtatious and the bitterness between Mrs. Manningham and her character seemed contrived. Mostly her downfall however was no fault of her own but that of her costuming. She wasn’t fitted well and that took away from the allure her character was supposed to possess. She seemed to know her lines but she failed at making them very convincing which left the audience feeling that she was acting. I think this stems from her lack of understanding the depth of her character.

Though Rachel Tidwell’s portrayal of Elizabeth was far from dramatic it seemed to suite her character. Meant to be the ever faithful servant she filled the role well. She was quite convincing throughout her performance and I believe she understood her character completely. I believe that she was overshadowed by Rhiannon’s performance only by the character’s themselves.

I think Andrew Benton understood his character Rough but simply lacked either the skills or the confidence to pull off a good performance. He consistently struggled with the lines and his body movements seemed stiff and unnatural. I don’t know if he could have benefited from any more preparation, this was simply a role that did not suite him well. Because of this he came across as anything but believable and the audience found him lacking. Sadly I must say that another actor might have been considered to fill this role had the casting director wanted the play to be more successful.

The two policemen, Dustin Chisam and Nicholas Hendricks had such small roles that it was impossible to critique them with any real insight. They were each believable and were prepared as they each used their space well. I don’t think it took much understanding of their individual characters to carry out their roles, so with that in mind I have to say they did a good job.

Throughout the play many of the characters went though changes, at least from the audience’s point of view, but none so much as Mrs. Manningham. She started the play as a victim of her own weaknesses as well as those contrived by her husband. With the help of Rough however, she found an inner strength and a sense of self that gave her the power to overcome her inadequacies.

Though this particular play did not rely on music to help to carry the plot, the sound was done rather well. The voices of the characters were projected well and the subtle, yet powerful, sound of door opening and closing lent to the projection of the piece.

The scenic design of the play was remarkable. It was well put together and conveyed the sense of period well. The furnishings and d�©cor were quite exquisite much like one would expect to find in such a house of stature.
The costuming was, for the most part, well done. With the exception of Nancy’s attire, it helped to draw the audience into the period and was a convincing part of the storyline.

The lighting was as much a character as any of the people who took the stage. The areas that were illuminated as the gaslights went up and down pushed the plot as much as any of the dialogue. The lights were an illustrious (no pun intended) part of this production.

All in all this play worked. It was an intriguing story and was presented quite well. The moments where the acting lacked were overshadowed by the quality of the story and the brilliant acting of Rhiannon, Rachel, and the lighting personnel. Had the cast had one more rehearsal I think they might have benefited by some encouragement to let themselves go and to become their characters.

Not to act but to be. Much like the idea of the rubies being hidden right in front of Mr. Manningham’s nose the whole time, I think the key to our own lives (including our theatrical endeavors), sometimes lie right in front of us and we have only but to unlock the puzzle box.

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