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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Woman In Black
by Laura Hitchcock
Some viewers thought it was going to be a comedy, an easy assumption given the mobile features of Joe Hart who plays Kipps, as he peeps around the door, and the fierce sometimes vampire-esque look of Paul Witten who plays the Actor. Desma Murphy's wonderful set reinforces the play's opening scene which takes place in the theatre where Kipps has engaged the Actor to help him tell his terrible story to his friends and family. One whole side wall of the Road's tiny space has become two boxes of an old theatre, complete with gilt statues and tattered swags. The stage is a jumble of furniture, props and mysterious doors which the actors sort out to set scenes. As the Actor's rehearsal of Kipps' tale proceeds, the Actor (of course) monopolizes the principal role of Kipps and assigns all the other parts to Kipps himself.
As a young man, solicitor Kipps was assigned to attend the funeral of an elderly client who lived alone in an isolated manor only accessible at low tide and always replete with quicksand. The terrible death of a child is never forgotten here and manifestations of the tragedy and the child's mother impinge on the visitor's consciousness. Like a deadly virus, the story infects parents who hear it with its fatal experience. Though this tale doesn't have the layers and possibilities of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, it is reminiscent of Dickens' straightforward emotional drama.
Hill has written a classic ghost story of a maligned and malignant ghost who never forgets and never forgives. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theatre, well, prepare for an ending you won't forget.
Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation is brilliantly dramatic and has an added dimension of delineating the theatricality of tale-telling. The adaptation has almost more to say than the book or the ghost story. The play underlines the role of director as magician and reminds us not to ask how the magic works. His Actor is every autocratic director you've ever known who, in what may be a double entendre, becomes a victim of the work he's brought to life.
Ken Sawyer has his finger on the pulse of this excellent adaptation's potential.. Sawyer also teases out wonderful impressions, such as depicting the dog Spider trotting behind the carriage by the Actor's twirling a tattered umbrella and using a pair of tongs as the reins. The two-hander is well served by Witten's cocksure actor/director and his interpretation of the shy proper young solicitor Kipps whose journey into terror has no end. Hart has the plum task of playing many different characters. He gets his laughs as a buxom barmaid, draws full measure of fear from Lawyer Jerome and is reassuringly believable as solid Squire Davies. Robert L. Smith's dim lighting design is punctuated by searing spots in all the right places. Jeff Marsh composed the atmospheric music and David B. Marling did full justice at full volume to the sound design.
For a review of a New York production of this play go here
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