The last time “Angel Street” was produced at Olney Theatre Center, it was 1950. Olney was 12 years old, and the film “Gaslight,” which was inspired by the play and starred Ingrid Bergman, had recently been released. The play popularized the word “gaslighting” as a term of psychological abuse, wherein the abuser messed with the mind of a victim by presenting fiction as fact, making the victim question his own sanity, to the point of madness.

Sixty-three years later, the Victorian thriller is returning to Olney’s stage. The era alone was enough to draw in director John Going, who just enjoys “being in that world. I think the manners, the behavior, it’s very interesting to me. . . . The code of conduct was so strict and yet, people are people and so they got around it in other ways. [There was] a kind of underworld that went on. Appearances were kept up, but a whole lot of stuff was going on behind the scenes.”

His biggest challenge was toning down the melodrama. “We look for a little more complexity today,” he said. “The acting needs a little more restraint than when it was first done.”

The set and the costumes are “very, very period,” Going said. He promises bustles and corsets for the ladies, waistcoats on the gents.

What will be modernized is the subtext, the sensibility. “We’re trying to make it psychologically more up to date, not quite so superficial as once was just fine,” Going said. “We’re trying to go inside a little deeper and discover what’s very possibly underneath it, and bring that out.”

Thursday to July 14, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, olneytheatre.org, 301-924-3400.

‘Rabbit Hole’ at Keegan: Curiouser and curiouser

Director Kerri Rambow describes David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole” like so: “This piece reaches into your soul and rips it out and throws it on the ground and stomps on it.”

“Rabbit Hole” follows the familial fallout in the aftermath of tragedy: A 4-year-old boy is killed in a car accident, and everyone who loved him is left reeling in his absence.

“I’m the mom of a 6-year-old,” Rambow said. When she first read the script a few years ago, “I literally got it, opened it up, read the first section of stage directions, realized what he was doing, closed it and threw it back on the shelf.”

Rambow shelved it, she said, because “I was not at a place where I could even explore what would happen if you lost a child.” But now, she’s thinking, maybe she is.

“When it came up in our season . . . I kind of threw my hat in the ring and then went back and read it,” said Rambow, who thought that “this might be a journey I can go on.”

She’s so ready for that journey that she was actually game to have her son be the voice of the deceased boy in the play. At first “I didn’t want my son to be the voice of a dead boy,” she said. “But it’s such an amazing moment . . . onstage” that she and her husband decided they could handle it.

Rambow’s direction is guided in large part by Lindsay-Abaire’s page of notes that he includes in the back of the script. “He is crystal clear about [how] you can’t go too maudlin with this. If it doesn’t say that she’s in tears, don’t go to tears. And it’s a family drama — funny stuff happens with family! There’s still funny in there.” Her modus operandi is “staying out of the play’s way. I’m just trying to put up the most true product of what he wrote.”

June 28 to July 21, 1742 Church St. NW, keegantheatre.
com
, 703-892-0202.

‘Cosby Show’ star coming
to Arena in ‘Dinner’

Malcolm-Jamal Warner, perhaps best known for his breakout role as Theo Huxtable, Bill Cosby’s son on “The Cosby Show,” will play Dr. John Prentice in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at Arena Stage this winter.

Warner, who will play the role Sidney Poitier made famous in the Oscar-winning film, is looking forward to providing “a gentle reminder of how far we’ve come with race relations.” He described the play, set in 1967, as a “period piece.” “I think the subject matter and the time period were important, in terms of this particular take on interracial relationships.”

Though he’s mostly worked in television and film, Warner “always [goes] back to theater,” he said. “It’s a different kind of work ethic, I think. Theater, more than any other genre, you actually have time to rehearse and really spend time developing a character, and working the ins and outs of developing that character, from the first day of rehearsal to closing night.”

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” will be directed by Kenny Leon and run from Nov. 29 to Jan. 5.