Blog: A Painfully Relevant Play

Jared Reed, Jennifer Summerfield, and Brittany Holdahl photo by Kyle Cassidy

Few plays have the staying power to be successfully performed 74 years after their creation. Even fewer plays have a premise so powerful, they coin a term still used by psychologists today. Gaslight (known in the United States as Angel Street) by Patrick Hamilton, running September 29 through October 30, is one of those plays.

To helm a play like this takes an understanding of difficult material, as well as an eye for good drama. Cara Blouin, Hedgerow’s director of Hamilton’s riveting piece, is best known in Philadelphia for work with a social message, including Dan Rottenberg Is Thinking About Raping You and The Republican Theater Festival.

“Gaslight is painfully relevant today ,” states Blouin. The term ‘gaslighting’ came into the world of psychology and then into popular culture via this play. The play—which premiered long before the concept of ‘gaslighting’ illuminated a certain type of abusive relationship—presented an extremely accurate depiction of such a relationship. “So accurate that the script and the movie versions of the play are used as teaching tools for counseling and psychology students.” Blouin explains that gaslighting doesn’t always take place within the context of romantic relationships, “This story will resonate particularly with women, because all women at some time in their lives have been told that they were overreacting, being too emotional or simply misconstruing reality. The play lays bare how helpless the victim becomes when she begins to stop trusting herself, and looks to her abuser for the truth.”

The play and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944 respectively masterfully illustrate the feeling of being In a world where you don’t know if you can trust your senses. With the power of this premise in mind, Blouin seeks to bring the truth of Hamilton’s thriller to light.

Gaslight is a tightly written mystery.  The characters are layered and depthful– as is evidenced by the play’s place in psychology and the larger culture. These characters resonate deeply with me as real people with very real obstacles,” notes Blouin. “Horror is only horrifying if you care about the person that is suffering. The stakes for Bella are very high, and if the audience cares about her, her struggle to keep her head above water will be compelling.”

Blouin was introduced to Hedgerow Theatre by lead actress Jennifer Summerfield, who was immediately attracted to the play and the possibility of taking on the challenging role of Bella.  

“I’m incredibly excited to see what director, Cara Blouin, brings to the table. I’ve long said that she is probably one of three people in Philadelphia who could jump off a cliff and I’d follow. She is incredibly smart and a great communicator and one of my all-time favorite directors,” said Summerfield, “and then to have another opportunity to act with Jared Reed, who is one of Philadelphia’s greatest actors, and one of the most exciting I’ve worked with, is not something I would ever turn down. And it’s just wonderful to be back at Hedgerow, among such kind and giving theatre artists.”

Summerfield is no stranger to Hedgerow, appearing in Macbeth, Hamlet, On the Verge, Don Quixote, and most recently Dracula; however, recently Summerfield has taken to producing her own work, and creating new experiences for Philadelphia theatre lovers.

“This has been an unusually busy season for me, theatrically, which has been really exciting. I’m used to there being months between acting jobs, which is partially why I decided this would be the year to begin producing some of my own work.”

Since that time she and her husband, Kyle Cassidy, produced a site specific production of Hedda Gabler with their theatre company,  Laurel Tree Theater, at the historic Physick House, featuring Jared Reed as Lovborg. Then, Summerfield spent a large part of the spring at People’s Light in the ensemble of Sense and Sensibility and during her down time each night, she memorized the text of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ a one-woman performance at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown.

Summerfield has a deep connection to Hamilton’s story. She grew up watching Bergman in classic films such as Gaslight, and jumped at the opportunity to “be Ingrid Bergman!”

Cast of Gaslight photo by Kyle Cassidy

“Of course, when I calmed down, I realized what a perfect conclusion Gaslight is to my year of unhappily married Victorian women and what a note of hope the play strikes in this trilogy of plays. Hedda ends in death, Wallpaper ends in entrapment and insanity, but Gaslight is the ultimate vindication for all those 19th century wives living thwarted lives,” said Summerfield, “a woman, long subjugated by the will of another, discovering her true self and coming into her own and persevering. Add in suspense, and you have a perfect play in my opinion.”

The team of Blouin, Summerfield, and Reed is like the aligning of the stars. Though they each come from different backgrounds, and different walks of life, the three found each other to make this play happen.

Adult ticket prices are $34, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as students, are $20. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change.
For reservations or more info, call 610-565-4211 or visit Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).