Review | Dreamwell Theatre opens ‘Angel Street’ at the ArtiFactory

On April 14, Dreamwell Theatre opened ‘Angel Street’ at the ArtiFactory, telling a powerful story of a toxic marriage in the Victorian era with emotional performances and intimate moments with the audience.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Alex MacKay, playing Jack Manningham, and Andrew Cole, playing Sergeant Rough, perform during a production of “Angel Street” presented by Dreamwell Theatre at the ArtiFactory in Iowa City on Friday, April 14, 2023. The show premiered on Broadway in 1941 and is known for coining the term “gaslighting.” ArtiFactory will run the show until April 22.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Gas lamps shed a golden glow over the fragile figure of a woman on her chaise lounge. The tea on the table beside her sits abandoned and cold while she anxiously waits for her husband to return home.

Dreamwell Theatre premiered its production of playwright Patrick Hamilton’s “Angel Street” at the ArtiFactory in Iowa City on April 14.

“Angel Street,” also known by the title “Gas Light,” is a play set in the Victorian era about a toxic marriage in which the husband, Jack Manningham, manipulates his wife Bella into believing she is losing her mind. Throughout the play, it is revealed that Jack’s manipulation might be part of a more malicious plot.

Actor Alex MacKay brought a dark and powerful presence to Jack onstage. He carried his character with smooth self-confidence and the ability to switch between moods and behaviors with frightening ease.

Actress Kristina Rutkowski as Bella was the embodiment of a broken woman, literally and figuratively falling apart faster than she could recover. Rutkowski’s commitment to her role was especially impressive considering she remained onstage for nearly the entire show, never once slipping from her frazzled state.

Andrew Cole played Sergeant Rough as a coolly rational inspector — a refreshing parallel to Jack’s abrasiveness and short temper. His appearance onstage brought comfort to both the audience and Bella.

Sergeant Rough, after receiving a tip-off from Nancy, made observations of Jack’s behavior that led him to the Manningham home, where an old woman was killed for her jewels in a case that was never solved 15 years earlier.

Rounding out the strong cast were Ashley Boyle as housekeeper Nancy and Cheryl Walsh as housekeeper Elizabeth. Boyle brought a youthful sassiness to spitfire Nancy, and Walsh as Elizabeth portrayed refined mannerisms.

RELATED: Dreamwell Theatre presents world premiere of ‘the fog comes on little cat feet’

Perhaps the most powerful scene of the entire two-act play was the finale, where Bella, using the strength that Sergeant Rough helped her acquire, had to make a crucial decision that affected the rest of her life and her independence.

Bella’s search for freedom and autonomy in a loveless marriage is a powerful one that other women around the world may be able to sympathize with, especially today when gaslighting is so prevalent in political and social discussion.