Murder mystery ‘Angel Street’ leads back to Willow Leaves of Hope

Playing the bad guy is so, so good for actor Jason Bowser.

In fact, when he portrayed the mean-spirited Jack Manningham in the meandering murder mystery “Angel Street” three years ago, he was so convincing as a despicable, sinister sort that some audience members, without much prodding, told him afterward, “I hated your guts.”

The performer, better known offstage as a cut-up and comic among friends, was elated.

“When people in the audience have that strong of a feeling, that’s a good thing,” Bowser said.

The Columbus resident reprises his co-leading role with Cheryl Baker as his wife, Bella, when the local Passion For Acting Theatre Company brings back the dark, Victorian-era, London-based story opening Friday again in an approximately 100-seat dinner theater format at Willow Leaves of Hope. Director Connie Kiviniemi-Baylor is hoping more people can see the show this time, since snowy and icy conditions led to some date cancellations in 2019.

“Hopefully, the weather this time will be much better,” Kiviniemi-Baylor said.

To some, the script is better known as the 1944 American film, “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award for her performance. The film also was nominated for best picture.

The local director, also part of the cast, acknowledged that having her two leads return is wonderful, and passed praise to Baker for again making her emotional character’s portrayal “very convincing.” That’s significant because Jack convinces his wife that she is going mad when she believes she hears nighttime footsteps and more.

“She plays angry,” Kiviniemi-Baylor said. “She plays scared. She plays doubtful.”

Baker mentioned that, in this presentation, she aims to present Bella in a broader, more human context.

“I’m trying to find small places where she can be presented as not quite as anxious or maybe not so afraid of everything,” Baker said.

She believes audiences who missed it three years ago will find it exciting, psychological drama and all.

“In some ways, it really reminds me of a (Alfred) Hitchcock thriller,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of foreshadowing, and twists and turns and suspense.”

The play’s stilted English has presented a challenge each time for Baker, a veteran of area stage productions. And it has caused its share of headaches for Bowser, who was so determined in 2019 to be a believable Brit that he listened to only BBC Radio for 30 straight days — and even ordered mocha from Starbuck’s in a London dialect. His two inspired youngsters followed suit and fooled the barista.

“I was dying laughing,” he said.