As the city spreads even further out of its original midtown base, so does the theatre world. Quest Theatre Ensemble is currently calling the Astoria Performing Arts Center its home, and high-quality work is being presented in a venue not traditionally known for artistic abundance.
The young theatre company's recent production of Angel Street, starring Jennifer Dickison and Tim Browning, transported the audience to the late 1800s in a suspenseful drama that was humorous and riveting. As the familiar plot goes, a sensitive woman is being convinced by her husband that she is slowly going mad. In 1938, when the play made its world premiere, public reaction to the extremely old-fashioned ideas of the woman's place was uncomfortable amusement. (It later matured into a Hollywood movie classic in the form of Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman.) In Queens in the year 2002, the audience was in stitches. Browning made a perfect villain and strutted across the stage with faultless machismo.
Paul James Bowen proved to be a bright director and guided his cast well, to create a very believable and refreshing production. The collective attention to detail (particularly with the dimming of the lights every time Dickison's mind was playing tricks on her) was appreciated.
One noteworthy part of the show was the impressive costuming, by Bowen and Rachel Alt. Dickison walked around the stage in a gloriously uncomfortable manner that suggested the rigidity prevalent among women at the time. The actress inspired fear for her well-being with each plea to her unfeeling husband. The set design, also by Bowen, was realistic and true to the era. The couple's apartment was reminiscent of a cage, and Dickison's anxiety turned to suffocation, which the audience seemed to feel with her.
Melissa DeLancey played the mysterious Nancy, the servant of the house and the feminine rival to Dickison. DeLancey's party costume in the second act was flawlessly designed and created a believable image of the 1800s equivalent of the wild party girl. The play also starred Alisun Armstrong and Jeremy Travis, who were stellar in their supporting roles.
Glenn Stoops played the lively Sergeant Rough and did so with great form and naturalness, although his dialect was distracting at first. Stoops reveals to Dickison that her husband is a crook and that she must use her suppressed intelligence to help bring him to justice.
When, at the show's climax, Dickison discovered her intuition had not failed her, the result was wonderful, and Dickison and Bowen aroused a magnificent hope for the character's future.
This may not be the greatest play ever written, but (thanks to the cast) every moment was engaging, and the three acts just seemed to fly by without the audience's noticing. How often can that be said?
Over the winter season a jacket would be advisable when visiting this theatre. The heat was onstage in the acting -- not in the house.
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Copyright 2002 Jade Esteban Estrada