Sunday, November 3, 2013

THE WOMAN IN BLACK • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Stephen Mallatratt's 1987 play was adapted from Susan Hill's book bearing the same name, and it continues Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble's "Season of the Monster."  In London where "The Woman in Black" debuted, it still holds the record as the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of the West End, after Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap."  The Chapel's architectural features and intimate theatre space make it a fitting spot for this Victorian-era ghost story that's set in an empty theatre in London.

We begin with Mr. Arthur Kipps (B. Weller) rushing through a passage he's reading from a manuscript.  After being criticized for his horrible delivery, the Actor (Jared Sanz-Agero), steps onto the stage and tries to give Kipps some tips for a better, more emotional performance.  He tells him that if he wishes to perform this piece and keep the attention of the audience, it's going to have to be trimmed down considerably as well.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor) and B. Weller (Mr. Kipps).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of RumZoo Photography
Mr. Kipps has enlisted the help of the actor to assist him with a tale he needs to tell.  His experience during a business trip to an isolated house some 25 years earlier, is one that he hopes to put to rest by reliving it in the retelling, and being rid of it for good.  In an effort to improve Mr. Kipps' performance, they decide to run through the piece.  The actor assures Kipps that the magic of theatre can fill in for the tedious descriptions of this and that, and after being impressed with the effect of pre-recorded sound, Kipps agrees to give it a go.  In the play-within-the-play, the actor portrays the younger Kipps, and Kipps, drawing from his memories, re-enacts a number of characters along the way.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of
RumZoo Photography
Kipps travels to the town of Crythin Gifford to represent the firm he works for at the funeral of a recently deceased client, Mrs. Drablow, and sort through her papers to settle up old business.  She lived alone in a mansion known as the Eel Marsh House that's surrounded by a bog and unreachable when high tide comes in, submerging the one causeway that leads to the house.  Despite suspicious looks from the townsfolk and an unwillingness of just about anyone to take him there, Kipps is determined to finish what he came to do, but his discovery of a child's nursery, the sounds of a phantom pony and trap out in the fog covered marsh, and his encounters with a mysterious apparition of a gaunt woman dressed in black (Shelby Partridge), plus the secrets he learns from old letters of correspondence, fill him, and us, with growing terror.

Weller deftly navigates various roles, blossoming as the mildly boring Mr. Kipps comes to inhabit a variety of local townspeople.  Weller individualizes his characterizations with his posture, the way he sets his face and an assortment of distinctly different dialects.  Sanz-Agero also turns in a fine performance as the confident actor and the younger Mr. Kipps, his expressions filling us with an infectious dread.  They both shoulder the weight of the play wonderfully.  Though Partridge doesn't have any lines, she will spook you out with her random appearances.  She scared me.  Get an aisle seat.  ;)

B. Weller (Mr. Kipps).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell of
RumZoo Photography
Director Rachel Tibbetts keeps the action moving at an engaging clip, makes good use of the space, and turns a few pieces of furniture from Bess Moynihan's scenic design into a pony and trap, a work-desk, or the inside of a train.  Moynihan's set also features creepy sheet covered furniture and her lighting design offers long shadows and spooky silhouettes.  Ellie Schwetye provides the sound design that helps carry much of the story with street noises, horses, and an altogether eerie atmospheric soundscape.  Elizabeth Henning's costume design provides a nice touch and kudos also to dialect coach, Pamela Reckamp.

As the weather gets chillier, this well-executed old-fashioned ghost story, also equipped with a great twist at the end, couldn't come at a better time.  Go see it -- it's playing until the 9th.


Written by Susan Hill
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt
Directed by Rachel Tibbetts
through November 9 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm

Jared Sanz-Agero (Actor), B. Weller (Mr. Kipps) and Shelby Partridge (Jennet Humfrye).

Scenic and lighting design by Bess Moynihan; sound design by Ellie Schwetye; costume design by Elizabeth Henning; dialect coach, Pamela Reckamp; stage manager, Mollie Amburgey.

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