Entertainment » Theatre

The Woman in Black

by Harker Jones
Tuesday Oct 3, 2017
The Woman in Black

On a side street in North Hollywood, inside a church, up on the second level is a tiny theater, hidden away so you wouldn't know it was there unless you were looking for it. And maybe not even then. But once you're ensconced, it's a cozy spot, especially to see a creepy play that takes place so close to you it's practically interactive.

Just in time for the Halloween season, Theatre Unleashed is unleashing Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation of Susan Hill's classic 1983 chiller "The Woman in Black." Debuting in London's West End in 1989, the show is STILL in production and is the second-longest-running play in West End history (behind "The Mousetrap").

Essentially a two-man show (with the mysterious Woman in Black [Amanda Rae Troisi] making speechless appearances on occasion), the production centers on a timid British junior solicitor, Arthur Kipps (Adam Meredith), who has written his memoirs and experiences involving the mysterious title character and has contracted an actor (Spencer Cantrell) to help him tell his tale convincingly in hopes of exorcising the bad luck that has haunted him since.

As a younger man, Kipps went to the funeral of a Mrs. Drablow in order to get her finances in order. Staying at her country mansion, which at high tide is cut off from the rest of the world -- which, of course happens, stranding him there -- he found that he wasn't alone.

The story was adapted in 1989 for British television and in 2012 as a hit vehicle for Daniel Radcliffe. What makes the stage production particularly complex is the fact that it becomes a play within a play, with Cantrell playing Kipps as he shows him how to perform, and Meredith playing every other character, offering him a wide range of material to execute, which he does effortlessly, transforming in seconds before our eyes.

There are layers and layers to both the story and the production as the actors move in and out of their roles, back to themselves then back to their performances. Cantrell and Meredith are solid, there's not an untrue moment between them, and their British accents never waver. Meredith in particular, with who knows how many roles, shines, a subtle sexiness under the brim of every turn of phrase he utters and every darting expression he gives.

Director Jacob Smith derives a spooky sense of true dread (including some legitimate jump scares) from nothing more than his actors and light and sound effects. The sets and props are minimal with the action taking place entirely on the stage of the theater at which Kipps originally meets the actor, with a lamp, a rocking chair and costumes hung on pegs in the back, creating some intimidating shadows at some points.

Though there aren't fireworks and graphic effects, the subtlety of the production and the complexity of the script ensure that you'll be caught up in "The Woman in Black"'s web of intrigue. It's all about the suspension of disbelief. The wanting to believe. And the need to know what is hiding in the dark.

For a smart, non-pandering thrill ride, you couldn't do better than "The Woman in Black." It will set the mood for the rest of your October.

"The Woman in Black" runs through November 4 at the Belfry Stage, Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo Street, North Hollywood, CA 91602. For information and tickets, call 818-849-4039 or visit TheatreUnleashed.org

10 Days of Halloween

This story is part of our special report titled "10 Days of Halloween." Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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