From Stage to Screen and Back Again in KCAT’s GASLIGHT 

Of the sixteen people in attendance at the first rehearsal of Kansas City Actors Theatre’s (KCAT) production of Gaslight, only four had not seen the 1944 Academy-Award winning adaptation to the big screen. The director and actors of KCAT’s Gaslight reflect on balancing the popularity of the movie with changing cultural landscapes to bring a fresh and thrilling take to the City Stage in Union Station this month. 

“In the movie, the part I play is quite different from the one written for the stage. They made the character an American, as opposed to the British character of the play, and shrunk his involvement in the case,” said KCAT Company Member John Rensenhouse, who plays the paternal Inspector Rough. “Normally, knowledge of the film would tangentially have an effect on how I prepare the character. Traditionally, I don’t like to see other versions of the character I play, but this time around it’s no problem because the character is so different.”  

Director and KCAT Company Member Cinnamon Schultz adds, “The film has additional scenes that really capture the relationship dynamics between the two main characters in a way that the play does not. I hope to include some of those elements in this production.” 

As the curtain rises on Gaslight (also known under the name Angel Street), all appears to be the essence of Victorian tranquility. However, what unfolds is the dark tale of a marriage based on deceit, and a husband committed to driving his wife to the brink of insanity. This suspenseful thriller is both a Victorian melodrama, and an uncannily insightful depiction of an abusive relationship.  

Although some themes have evolved from when Gaslight was written in 1930’s London, others remain universal in 2020’s Kansas City. “The main theme of the play is doubting yourself because you want to be who your partner wants,” said Schultz. “This ability to manipulate through the falsehood of love—that idea is the same today. What has changed is the power of being a woman.” Rensenhouse agrees with the plays staying power, “The idea of doubt is still relevant today, especially in the age of the internet where it takes more time to determine what is real versus what is not.” 

Merriam-Webster named “gaslighting” the Word of the Year for 2022, with searches on its website spiking 1,740% that year. The term “gaslighting” derives its origin from Hamilton’s thriller of the same name. While the term referred generally to psychological manipulation in the 20th Century, its meaning has sharpened in the 21st Century to describe “the act of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” Merriam-Webster notes in their statement, that this is due to “the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead people, especially in personal and political contexts.” 

Now, almost ninety years after Gaslight was written, the term has risen to the top of our cultural consciousness, and the play it comes from remains as relevant as ever. “Because it’s good, solid, classic storytelling,” said Rensenhouse. “Compelling characters, a great storyline, and a level of tension and intrigue that will sustain for the entire show.”  

“Audiences will leave feeling they are finally able to catch their breath once the play is over,” agrees Schultz. Featuring original music from Jon Robertson, a seasoned team of designers, and a cast both familiar and new to KCAT’s stage, Gaslight promises to keep audiences on the edge of their seats and as Schultz declares, “along for a fun ride. It might be Victorian, but it’s also timeless.” 

Ashlee LaPine, Matthew J. Williamson, KCAT Company Member John Rensenhouse, Leah Dalrymple, and Kendra Keller star in KCAT’s thrilling production of Gaslight (Angel Street). From January 17 to February 4 at the City Stage in Union Station. Visit www.kcactors.org/shows/gaslight/ or call (816) 361-5228 for tickets and more information. 

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KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

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