By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Mr. Arthur Kipps (Martin Giles) hires an Actor (James FitzGerald) to help him tell a frightening story from his past in Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s Gothic horror novel, “The Woman in Black.”
In the prior year, Kipps sequesters himself from his family on Christmas Eve because they are telling ghost stories around the hearth. Ashamed that he could not tell his tale, he hires the Actor to help him recount the story turning “The Woman in Black” into a play-within-a-play.
After a few stalled attempts, the Actor takes over. He becomes Kipps, and Kipps becomes all of the side characters in the story as they reenact it.
Kipps, a London solicitor, is called to collect documents and other important papers from the dilapidated home of a recently-deceased, long-widowed Alice Drablow in a remote village of Crythin Gifford. Kipps makes the journey to discover he is a pariah among the townsfolk. They whisper in secret behind his back. The villagers fear the remote home that, at high tide, is cut off from the mainland.
Once inside the Drablow home, mysteries are afoot, strange noises, flickering lights and the wandering spirit of the woman in black.
Giles does a marvelous job going from the meek Arthur Kipps to playing a variety of side characters. He’s particularly riveting as the gruff pony and trap driver.
FitzGerald transitions from the grand and pretentious actor to a younger version of Kipps – one who pretends to be strong and unafraid (until the tale becomes tragic).
Domenico LaGamba does a masterful job with an important set piece in the final act – a room that reveals all of the house’s mysterious secrets. Lighting Designer Keith A. Truax adds some additional eerie lighting with some chilling sounds by Sound Engineer Nick DePinto.
There are some unnerving special effects, but most of the fun comes from the actors, superbly directed by Alan Stanford.
There are some thrills and chills in the play, but it takes a while to get there. Mallatratt opens the play with a humorous gag, but it goes on a bit long. It’s sort of a metaphor of the rest of the show. If Mallatratt had an unscrupulous editor, “The Woman in Black” would be perfect. It scary without a gigantic body count, but the deaths have more meaning here. They matter, which makes it even more terrifying.
“The Woman in Black” runs until Saturday November 23 at the Fred Rogers Studio, WQED, 4802 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.