Damsels in Distress

Classic thrillers haunt community theaters.

On stormy nights like we’ve been having, there are few things more satisfying than to curl up with a cup of cocoa and watch an old thriller — Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, say, or Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. Before those two were movies, however, they were stage hits, and if you don’t mind venturing out you have the option of seeing them performed live at a community theater near you. Although Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play was originally titled Gas Light when it premiered in London and became best known in the one-word version of that name used for the 1944 film, it played in the states as Angel Street, and that’s the version that Masquers Playhouse is presenting in Point Richmond to mark the play’s 70th anniversary. The premise of the five-player nail-biter set in 1880s London, of a husband trying to drive his wife mad, has entered the popular lexicon so much at this point that such a devious scheme is called “gaslighting.” But even if you know the setup there’s no substitute for watching the web being spun and rooting for the heroine to snap out of it. Patricia Inabnet directs Michelle Pond as the damsel driven to distraction and David Shirk as the scheming hubby.

As for Wait Until Dark, the 1966 play by Frederick Knott (best known for Dial M for Murder) became the familiar film version only a year later. The thriller about a blind housewife bedeviled by three intruders looking for something in the apartment centers around one particularly atmospheric stage gimmick late in the play (the title’s a good clue), but it can be good suspenseful fun even when you see it coming. In this case, it’s coming to Alameda’s Altarena Playhouse, directed by Stewart Lyle. Angel Street plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., January 18 through February 23, at Masquers Playhouse (105 Park Place, Point Richmond). Tickets are $18, available at 510-232-4031 or Masquers.org. Wait Until Dark plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. and Sundays at 2 p.m., January 18 through February 16, at Altarena Playhouse (1409 High St., Alameda). Tickets are $17-$20, available at 510-523-1553 or Altarena.org.

Sam Hurwitt

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