Monday, November 21, 2011
Ian Lowe, left, and Steven L. Barron in "The Woman in Black" at the Ivoryton Playhouse, running through Nov. 20
‘The Woman in Black’ a scary ghost story at Ivoryton
by Kory Loucks
IVORYTON — If you feel at a loss because you missed out on Halloween this year because of power outages, the Ivoryton Playhouse has the perfect solution with its spooky, truly frightening production of “The Woman in Black.”
The play, written by Stephen Mallatratt, based on Susan Hill’s novel, is a ghost story about a man named Kipps who years ago traveled to the north of England on business after a woman died, to review her myriad of papers and close out the estate for his company.
Once at the strange and gloomy mansion on a remote island that is only accessible at low tide, Kipps discovers odd sounds and endures terrifying experiences.
He also meets the town’s bleak and morose inhabitants, who fill him with even more trepidation and dread. One of the town folk tells him that “those that have seen the most say the least.”
The story is the retelling of his horrendous tale. But Kipps is no storyteller, so he hires an actor to bring his story to life for the family members he wants to share his life-altering event with, and thereby purge him of the horror he lives with every day.
The two meet in an old gothic Victorian theater in England where Kipps first reads his story. At first Kipps is stilted, dull, and extremely awkward as he speaks, just as one might expect someone who isn’t used to public speaking to sound. But as he practices, with the help of the actor, he improves, to the point of miraculousness; the sudden transition is a huge relief for those in the audience.
The actor (Ian Lowe) suggests that he play the part of Kipps while Kipps (Steven L. Barron) assumes all the other characters. In retrospect, it would make more sense for the inexperienced Kipp to play himself, but for plot reasons that I won’t expose here, that wouldn’t do.
Barron plays Kipps with the convincing demeanor of a haunted man desperate to exorcise his demons. He handles the transition from stodgy solicitor to polished and confident actor with grace and skill. A dusty, gray pin-stripped suit makes him appear even more dull and bland — with fine costumes by Vickie Blake.
Lowe plays the actor with enthusiasm and energy. It seems for a while that he has grander plans for this story other than just presenting it to Kipp’s relations, when he says that he would also like to invite a theater manager or two to the presentation.
Both Barron and Lowe have excellent British accents, complete with dialects, which are essential to this tale, sprightly directed by Maggie McGlone Jennings.
Gloomy lighting and accurate timing are essential for the fright factor, and they don’t disappoint, with lighting by Doug Harry.
The occasional rolling fog that we are told is caused by “sea frets” adds beautifully to the murky, mysterious atmosphere.
The set, by Tony Andrea, is basic but effective, with dusty old pieces of furniture piled on the sides of the stage, and a gothic curtain swag over the top in front.
Across the back of the stage there is a gauzy cloth through which a graveyard and, later, a child’s nursery can be vaguely and mysteriously seen.
The cloth is also used as a projection screen onto which the vision of the large gothic mansion is projected, to excellent effect.
The sound by Tate R. Burmeister adds much to the eerie mood, with extremely loud screams at key moments that made me jump on more than one occasion.
I don’t like the feeling of being scared out of my wits, but for those who love a scary ghost story, “The Lady in Black” more than delivers.