In the original story by Susan Hill, an English writer, the tale is told by a young London lawyer, Arthur Kipps. He's been assigned to go to a small town on the coast to go over the papers of a client of the firm, an elderly woman who has recently died. This being a good English ghost story, the elderly woman's house is located a little way out of town, right on the ocean, so isolated that it can only be reached over a narrow causeway that is submerged during high tide. Marshes with quicksand surround the house. First at the client's funeral, then at the house, Kipps encounters a mysterious woman dressed only in mourning black, her face covered by a heavy veil. She has a history with the house, and she bears an ill omen for all who see her.
Stephen Mallatratt made “The Woman in Black” a play by having Arthur Kipps rent an old theatre and hire an actor to help him tell his story to the members of his family, hoping that this will exorcise the memory that still troubles him. When he steps out on the stage to rehearse his performance for the actor, the actor immediately begins to criticize his dull delivery. After some effort, they agree that the actor will play Kipps, and Kipps will play all the others in his story.
At Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, B. Weller plays Kipps. Weller is a very good actor, so he succeeds at being a very bad actor when Kipps tries to tell his tale. Weller and his director, Rachel Tibbetts, spare us the pain of watching Weller act badly for the whole evening. His Kipps very quickly becomes quite proficient at playing all the others in his tale.
Jared Sanz-Agero, another very good actor, plays the actor. It's fun to watch him change from the detached critic of Kipps' performance to someone very much involved in acting out this experience. By the end, in a clever twist that playwright Mallatratt has added to Hill's story, he's more involved than he would like.
A third presence does haunt the performance. That's the Woman in Black. She never speaks, but she floats down the aisle to confront the actor as he plays Arthur Kipps. And she can appear quite suddenly – so suddenly that when she materialized at the end of my row of seats, the young woman sitting in front of me nearly leapt into the arms of the young man she was with – a pleasant experience for him, no doubt. And probably an enjoyable scare for her, of the kind we want to enjoy at a play like this. Shelby Partridge wears the black veils and mourning layers of the clothing of the Woman in Black.
Elizabeth Henning designed the costumes. Bess Moynihan's set has an appropriately and cleverly improvised quality for Kipps's telling of his tale, and Moynihan's lights make abundant erie shadows when required. Ellie Schwetye's sound design plays a significant role in the telling of the tale. Dialect coach Pamela Reckamp has helped the two actors sound like they are English.
Halloween is over, but you can still enjoy the chills at Slightly Askew's “The Woman in Black” through November 9.