Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Dear Jack, Dear Louise
The Woman in Black has been running in London's West End for 30 years, and the touring production being hosted through December 22 by Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company demonstrates why.
The play by Stephen Mallatratt, adapted from a novel by Susan Hill, is a chilling ghost story that, in its minimalist staging, proves how the imagination (and a few well-placed theatrical effects) can conjure up more horror than explicit depictions of gore. It's also a showcase for two actors, Robert Goodale and Daniel Easton, and the measured direction of Robin Herford that begins lightly and gradually spins a web that envelops the audience.
The setting is a dilapidated theater, designed with deceptive simplicity by Michael Holt: a mildewed curtain, dust cloths shrouding random set pieces, a few powerful lights overhead. Arthur Kipps (Goodale), a solicitor, has hired an actor (Easton) to help him exorcise the memory of an experience he had decades earlier by re-enacting it. After a few false starts surrounding Kipps' inability to read lines with any dramatic impact, the play itself sneaks in with the actor playing Kipps as a young man and Kipps, now assured, playing all the other roles.
The story itself is prime gothic: a creepy mansion set on the edge of a marsh, cut off from the mainland when the tide rises; a recent death; suspicious residents in the nearest town; fogs that gather and dissipate without warning; horrifying sounds in the darkness (most of the jolts are related to Sebastian Frost's sound design, adapted from Rod Mead's original design). Young Kipps has been sent to settle an estate andafter reminding himself that ghosts can't possibly existrealizes that some things can't be explained rationally.
Goodale is gripping as a man who has spent his life unable to share the most important thing that has ever happened to him, determined to tell his secret before he dies; he also creates charming cameos as a senior lawyer, a landowner, the caretaker of the mansion, and smaller roles. Easton captivates as his character becomes more and more enmeshed within Kipps' story.
The production is playing in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's smaller space, renamed the Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh in honor of the longtime chairman of its board of trustees.
Shakespeare Theatre Company
For more information on the tour, visit www.thewomaninblack.com.