Arts & Entertainment
Williamston Opens With A Haunting Ghost Story
By Michael H. Margolin
Originally printed 10/17/2013 (Issue 2142 - Between The Lines News)
Plots unfolding within plots, unreality seeping through the cracks of English Edwardian sensibility, the deaths of young women and children, perhaps by accident? For a while, "The Woman in Black" will make you think you know the answer, but it withholds its secrets until the end.
Stephen Mallatratt's play, based on Susan Hill's eponymous novel, has been running in London for 25 years: It has wide appeal both to the sentimental and to those who just want to be taken far, far away from everyday life.
Two men meet on the stage of a rundown theater in London, England in the early 1900s. They are The Actor and Kipps, played respectively by Aral Gribble and John Seibert (double winner of last season's Wilde Awards for acting). Kipps has come to The Actor for coaching in telling a story that haunts him, that he has written out and which he hopes to read to others, finally to exorcise its demonic hold over him.
His line delivery is quite terrible, and it is amusing to hear such a skilled actor as Seibert give bad readings. But soon enough, The Actor has evoked the magic of theater - with a snap of his fingers he brings up a good sound design by Julia Garlotte to take the place of some of Kipps' overlong descriptions and imbued Kipps with an actor's chops.
In the short first scene, The Actor coaches; in the second scene and the second act, the men switch roles, as Gribble becomes Kipps and Seibert takes on many characters (with an addition of a hat, a pipe or a sweater, in April Townsend's very good costume design) ,and Kipps' story launches into high gear.
The simple set, well designed by Bartley H. Bauer and lighted with nuance by Daniel C. Walker, becomes, with words added, quite complex: The story takes Kipps to an isolated mansion in the east of England where the rushing waters cut off the pathway to the nearest village on a daily basis - and which is treacherous when flooded.
As Kipps, alone, pores over the papers of the now deceased owner, Alice Drablow - he is a solicitor - frightening things begin to happen, and the apparition, The Woman of the title, becomes corporeal. In the dead woman's papers, Kipps discovers a story of a child's death - taken from his mother - and her death, too. Is she the ghost he sees, the ghastly screams he hears?
Director Tobin Hissong keeps the audience guessing, and the two men, as they unravel secrets, unaware of what forces may be playing out in the story. Several scenes are viscerally challenging, not the least of which is the peril of a dog named Spider.
It should be mentioned, too, that Michelle Raymond's prop design is wonderful - from the small case that stands upright and represents a gravestone to the ghastly doll which, well, some things are best left unsaid.
Both Gribble and Seibert are convincing and astute in how they portray character - Gribble with eyes that see horror and widen in fright, and Seibert who cants his body or tilts his head to bring a new character to life. My one quibble is that Hissong has them pitched just a level too high as if he doesn't trust us to feel their fear. Somehow spookiness needs to be softer, pierced by moments of high volume, then released to build again.
In all, this season opener is strong melodrama with a great cast in a polished production; as I left the theater, I saw two signs posted around a light pole: "My 4-year-old son misses his dog. Please help" and below, "Missing, a yorkie. Reward." Neither sign mentioned the dog's name, and I thought, "it could be Spider." Sometimes good theater follows you home.
'The Woman in Black'
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston. Thursday-Sunday through Nov. 3. 1 hour, 40 minutes. $20-25. 517-655-7469. http://www.williamstontheatre.org