The Woman in Black is an old fashioned spine-tingler set within the conceit of a play within a play. Arthur Kipps has come to The Actor for help in presenting his story - a mysterious story of much terror and woe - to his friends and family. The story involves his trip to a small town to assess the papers of a recently deceased woman, and the chilling events that unfold there. Due to Kipps's unease as a performer, The Actor opts to take on his role in the retelling, while Kipps performs the roles of all the people he encountered on his harrowing journey. As the men move back and forth between the rehearsal and the tale, the lines of reality blur, as do the lines between the living and the dead.
Director Tobin Hissong does an extraordinary job of shaping the world of this play. He skillfully sculpts the locations and characters, builds and releases tension, withholds information, and invests whole-heartedly in the inherent theatricality of the piece. The locations are clear without being literal, and he uses misdirection like a master magician... somehow he always had me looking at the one hand, having no idea what that other hand was doing. And his design team is right in step. Bartley H. Bauer's scenic design is suggestive and spare, giving us only what we need exactly when we need it. His stage within a stage frames the evening beautifully, and there are some excellent tricks to his set that play out well at key moments. Daniel C. Walker's lighting design has a fantastic interplay with the actors and audience, and with Julia Garlotte's exquisite sound design (which is a character in and of itself), the audience is whisked into a ghost story before we even know what is happening.
The two actors are, simply put, masterful storytellers. As The Actor, Aral Gribble swings deftly between the extremes of charm and chills. In the moments of "rehearsal" he so thoroughly sets the audience at ease, that we follow him willingly into the terror that follows. And his growing experience of Kipps's fear is so compelling, that we almost forget whose story this is... or do we? John Seibert as the real Kipps and the multiple supporting players in his own tale displays uncommon versatility of character, dialect, movement, and tone. With the flip of a hat, or the tap of a pipe, he speaks volumes, drawing the audience ever deeper into his torment. This is a piece built in imagination, and because of how thoroughly these actors believe, we can't help but believe as well. And April Townsend's simple costumes complement the performances handily, giving the men everything they need to communicate their transformations.
I'm sorry to say that I'm writing with only two performances left of this fantastically creative and genuinely creepy show. But if you can find any way to make it out for those final two (which, if tonight's full house is any indication, may be tough), I assure you that your heebies will be well and truly jeebied.
The Woman in Black by Stephen Mallatratt, based on the novel by Susan Hill (Director: Tobin Hissong; The Actor: Aral Gribble; Kipps: John Seibert) closes all too soon on November 3. Tickets range from $10-$25. For more information, visit http://www.williamstontheatre.com/wp/.