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The gaslight dims, the suspense rises

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Audiences will be on the edge of their seats during the three-week run of "Angel Street," which opens Aug. 13 at the Strand Theater.

The Swamp Fox Players' production of the psychological thriller is packed with suspense and melodrama.

The gripping mystery, in the genre of "Dial M for Murder" and "Wait until Dark," is one of the longest running non-musicals in Broadway history.

Inge Ebert directs the intense interplay.

"I'm known for directing comedies, but 'Angel Street' is far from a comedy," Ebert said. "It is a very powerful play from which the old black-and-white movie 'Gaslight' was made. I loved the movie 'Gaslight' with Ingrid Bergman."

Indeed, a great deal of the play revolves around its infamous gaslight. Playwright Patrick Hamilton sets the opening scene in London, late afternoon, "before the feeble dawn of gaslight and tea."

"I've wanted to do this play for a couple of years," Ebert said. "It was a matter of getting the right performers."

Her handpicked cast is up to the task of producing an exciting thriller, she said. "It has to be done perfectly."

Ebert described the emotionally charged plot: "To cover his tracks while searching for hidden treasure in his own house, Jack Manningham [played by Charles Wells] is trying to convince his wife Bella [Kelly Callahan] that she is losing her mind. Can Bella trust the retired inspector Rough [Myles Barry Derison]? And which of the maids [Jo Camlin and Mary Palmer] will be her ally and which will betray her in a skinny minute?"

Ebert told Wells, "by the end of the play I want the audience to hate your guts."

And apparently they will.

"I'm a nasty guy," Wells said of his character. "I go around killing people. I think everyone is beneath me. The women in particular will find my character very evil, very chauvinistic. I get what I want when I want it by going around using people."

Although local theatergoers are most familiar with Wells as a director, "I enjoy acting just as much as directing if the part is right," he said.

Wells said his role is a challenge.

"This play is very different from the usual Swamp Fox Players production. It's a dark play, but if we do our jobs right, it should be very interesting," he said.

Wells said he has great chemistry with the cast, in particular his on-stage wife, veteran actor Callahan. She describes "Angel Street" as a really neat story.

"It's a period piece set in the 1930s. The costumes are pretty," said Callahan, who employs an English accent for her role.

Callahan's part requires her to play a meek woman. Something she's unfamiliar with.

"Usually my roles are about pretty strong women, so it's hard to repress that in me," she said. "There are violent scenes, some physical stuff. Everyone will be rooting for my character."

Derison portrays the ex-police detective bent on solving a murder that was committed 15 years earlier.

"This is an incredibly heavy role for me, with a lot of dialog to learn, but when I heard Inge was doing 'Gaslight,' the stage version, I jumped at it," Derison said. "I'd seen the film and can remember the movie very well. The movie was very powerful."

Derison, a Swamp Fox Player regular, has worked with Wells in the past and says he's a great guy offstage. "In this play we have our confrontations. In his role as Mr. Manningham, Charles scares the heck out of me," he said.

"Angel Street" will be performed at 8 p.m. on Aug. 13-14, 19-21 and 26-28, and at 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 22. Tickets are $15. Call 527-2924 for information. The Strand Theater is on Front Street in Georgetown, near the clock tower.

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