Friday, June 10, 2016

Gas Light: A Limiting Recollection of a Caricature Art Project

Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Bella Manningham
are enlivening by two unknown actors. Out of
costume, it was another day of rehearsal.
When living in Northern Virginia between the late 1990's and early 2000's had only one project professionally as a caricaturist. Gigs for caricature art were rare for me and hard to get in spite of my prospecting for work passing out flyers and approaching people at their businesses and on the streets. Then while driving around, I noticed a small playhouse and offered my services there. At the seasoned fall time, an acting group was rehearsing for a theater play. The administrator of the art house suggested I render a group drawing, caricatures of the actors in their roles. The final picture would be duplicated to be placed on sale for the patrons to purchase at the theater as a framable keepsake when the show premiered.
There he is, the actor in the role of
Inspector Rough in Angel Street.
That is the single project in Virginia that excited me for good measure as an artist. Because I had to rely on other occupations to sustain a means of living. There was for me a part-time retail job at The Gap at the Winchester Apple Blossom Mall and a full-time position at Grafton School as an overnight residential assistant. Grafton is a non-profit educational institution aiding individuals with disabilities and behavioral challenges. The Gap Store closed in the mall years later. On some weeks, I also attempted to jingle in an additional short-term assignment from an employment agency with endeavors to pay the rent and other residential expenses. Those duties included my assisting at an apple processing plant and a major printing press. Although I was submitting artwork and gag cartoons to journals nationwide, it was probably tougher in Virginia than in New York for me to earn helping income as a freelance artist.
For me to complete the group caricature drawing, there was some preparation. I sat in and observed the actors during their final rehearsals and the dress rehearsal. Of the live performers, I had to determine what might be among their memorable scenes, characteristics, whatever individual kinks for a collective portrait. I took camera images; the actors volunteered to pose for the picture. The interior design of the drawing had to be similar to the carefully arranged set decoration. I took photographs of everything necessary, an involvement that had me walking about the set design.

For the group caricature drawing project, I took photos of the set design. The young actress who was starring as a parlor maid, Nancy in the play, posed for me in performing one of her duties in her role.
You are probably wondering, "what is the name of the production?" The 1938 British play was likely entitled, Angel Street in Virgina was better recognizing in the UK as Gaslight. There have been many stage and television productions since, and two films based on Patrick Hamilton's classic drama premiering in London at the Richmond Theatre and Opera House on December 5th, 1938 and in New York at the Apollo Theater in 1941. The live performances of which my group caricature drawing is based on might have taken place in September 1998 somewhere in Warren County, Virginia.

The actors as the Manninghams modeled as part of a group caricature portrait.
In the 1940 UK film Gaslight, their roles were performed by Anton Walbrook
and Diane Wynyard as Jack and Bella Mallen. In the 1944 US movie version of the
same name, the lead roles were played by Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.
In the story of the play, an aged 30-ish woman, Bella was impelled by her new husband, Jack Manningham to move into a vacated house on Angel Street. There is an unpleasant memory in the neighborhood; years before a wealthy elderly woman was slain in the same house the Manningham are residing. The typical upper-middle class English couple is content to carry on with their lives, there are, however, troubling complications testing the marriage. The wife was behaving oddly in repeated acts of forgetfulness and misplacing items. The lady of the house seemingly imagines noises in the attic; footsteps are in her hearing; someone is walking about in it. The reoccurrence of these strange sounds is indeed maddening. She became emotionally unbalanced and distressed, wondering what is happening to her mentally.
Mr. Manningham sought to maintain his composure, offering his spouse mild to sharp rebukes, some kind words and bearing up with her increasing insanity. It seems like Bella would be heading to one of those West London asylums any day now. As the wife sinks more into a state of craziness, the husband has been increasing in his activity of craftiness. He is operating a wicked plan stirring in greed, cunning deceit, and murder. In the 1930's the British employed a term gaslighting when a person is willful, methodically causing another's mental illness. If you have not seen the play or films, I won't anymore spoil it for you. However, you probably are figuring out why Hamilton used Gas Light as the title of his thriller establishing the setting in 1880 when gas lamps frequently lit the homes of Londoners.
The caricature project was accomplished, and you see the final drawing in this posting with some of the photographs of my preparation of it. Please pardon me on this human shortcoming, I remember little else about it. I do not recall the name of the small theater in northern Virgina, its actual city or location, the dates of the play, the names of the director, actors and anyone else associated with the production. 
Before this posting, I searched as much possible for information and came up empty, zero connecting dots in aiding my recollection. A reason why I did not include this aspect of my freelance art career in my book, The Deserting Caricature Artist, which is available for sale at Smashwords. Of those who were involved in this late 1990's small stage production, it is my gratitude for your artistic contributions, you put on an excellent show, you have my regards. There are a few more photos below. If you notice anyone here from the drawing or photographs, please feel free to let then know, thank you for visiting.

The final group caricature portrait featuring the entire cast; from left to right the arresting police officers, Jack and Bella Manningham, tip-toeing Elizabeth, Rough the persistent detective and Nancy.

It is all coming together now; the well-arranging set design is a credit to live performances. How honorable to take note the craftspeople and artisans. They who function in the background using selective Victorian decorum to enhance the theater experience in the eye and ear sight of audiences.
Nancy and Inspector Roughly share a laugh with a cast member who likely served as one of the
law officers in the theater play. An unknown child of one of the production staff walks
out onto to the stage during a break from the rehearsal.

In the top photo, the woman who's back is towards us is the likely actress in the role of Elizabeth, a house cook and maid. You also see standing the actor portraying Nancy in a blue evening attire costume. The older lady wearing a lavender-pink t-shirt is possibly the director of the Northern Virgina art house play. The woman wearing eyeglasses in the second may be a theater assistant. My wish to have been able to recall any names of the participants of the 1938 play.

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