Theatre Baton Rouge’s latest production is frightful. But that’s OK. It’s supposed to be.
“The Woman in Black” opened last weekend, perfectly timed for those in the Halloween mood, or for those who appreciate a dark but cleverly crafted story effectively acted and staged.
There are just two actors, Kevin Harger and Travis H. Williams, but they play several characters in a play that shifts abruptly from past to present, occasionally drifts into a film noir sort of mood, but always holds the audience’s attention. Keith Dixon directs.
At the opening, Harger is an aging man who has enlisted an actor’s help to teach him how to tell family and friends about a tragic story from his early life. Williams serves as that coach until, with a snap of his fingers, the scene reverts to that long-ago story, and he becomes Arthur Kipps, a junior lawyer in a London firm who has been assigned to attend the funeral and settle the papers of a widow, Alice Drablow.
It seems like a simple, boring assignment. It is neither.
During his travel and at his arrival at the coastal town of Crythin Gifford, Kipps meets several locals (played by Harger) who give him an odd feeling about what is in store, a feeling not changed by the journey along Nine Lives Causeway to her home, Eel Marsh House, a place occasionally cut off from the rest of the world by high tides and sea fog.
At the funeral, he notices a gaunt-visaged woman dressed in black whom none of the other adults acknowledge having seen. Despite their discouragements, he travels to Eel Marsh House to go through her papers.
There, he encounters unexplained noises, including the sound of a horse and carriage, followed by the screams of a woman and child. And, he sees the Woman in Black yet again. Something is terribly wrong here, a fact the townspeople all seem to know, but none will speak about.
Kipps is right, and the rest of the play teaches him how right he is.
The play requires versatility from both actors, but especially from Williams, who is on stage the most and captures the emotional upheavals that Kipps endures. Harger, another TBR veteran, handles all his roles capably.
The lighting and set work are effective, coming close to making the Woman in Black invisible until she appears to shock Kipps.
For those seeking some Halloween spirit, this play will get you there in two hours.