THE WOMAN IN BLACK – Written by Stephen Mallatratt; directed by Selena A. Naumoff. Produced by Wheat Ridge Theatre Company (5455 West 38th Avenue, Wheat Ridge) through October 29. Tickets available at wheatridgetheatre.com.
Wheat Ridge Theatre Company is a relatively young company and has, until recently, been performing in various, often unexpected, places. They only moved into their new more permanent space a year ago and are learning to deal with its blessings and limitations. At this point, their productions have been a little hit or miss. But THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a solid hit. In the confident hands of Director Selena Naumoff who cast two competent and experienced actors, the script comes alive.
Playwright Stephen Mallatratt, an actor himself, was commissioned by the theatre who employed him in 1987 to adapt a popular spooky short story written by Susan Hill for their Christmas play. It proved to be a popular and profitable production and slowly made its way to the West End in London in 1989. It became the second longest running non-musical production scaring patrons nightly until it closed 33 years later in March of this year. Because of its small cast, use of a minimalist set, and engrossing story, it has had multiple TV and movie adaptations and been a popular script for local theatres across the world.
Mallatratt takes an unusual point of entry into the story. Kipps, a lawyer, has already gone through the episode with the Woman in Black years before and has hired an actor/director to help him understand and purge his unresolved memories. The two falteringly assume various roles with the actor taking Kipps place as Kipps himself tells the remembered story by assuming the other characters important to the telling.
They proceed with acting out Kipps’ memories of an assignment that took him to an isolated village to close the estate of a deceased woman. Upon arriving at her mansion on a spit of land separated from the mainland at high tide, he begins to hear and experience unexplained phenomena. He is eventually driven to flee the countryside in fear. Together the two complete the tale and the exorcism of memories. It’s an engrossing story well told.
Ronan Viard and Patrick Brownson are both talented and experienced local actors and brought their A game to this intimate production. In a theatre this small, there is an absolute necessity to be in the moment every moment. They tell this increasingly scary story with deadly seriousness. The script allows only occasional flashes of humor to ease the tension. The glimpses we are allowed of the Woman in Black played by Sina Hirsch startle by being unexpected and silent. Even when you begin anticipating her possible entrance, she continues to surprise by not being where you thought she was going to be. Brilliantly scary!
The few but well used rehearsal boxes and small furniture pieces used for setting various locations within the story keep the action flowing. The costumes by Victoria Green are era authentic and versatile. A brilliant sound design by Rick Reid and a light design by Devan Meck establish and maintain the eerie quality of the whole production.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!