A surprisingly enjoyable play is now on stage at Theater Unleashed through November 4th, upstairs at The Belfry Stage.
It is a solid production of Susan Hill’s novel, "The Woman in Black." This story is adapted by Stephen Mallatratt. It is a sultry tale of death and haunting with a provocative approach to the mysteries of each. Its theme of evil and a vengeful ghost terrorizing the living is not new, but the way this story is staged and presented is refreshing.
We open onto a small set with darkened walls and a stage filled with tables, a clothes rack, various non-identifiable items and a chair poised in the middle toward the audience. In the background we do not really see what is there, it is covered with a sheet, mysterious and unavailable for the audience to see. We will have to wait until the story reveals itself more in the second act. Enter Arthur Kipps (Adam Meredith), and his ‘actor’ friend played by Spencer Cantrell. Mr. Kipps takes center stage first standing and staring with an uneasy faraway gaze that makes you wonder what he actually sees. Bearded, glasses, period clothes and a bit disheveled, Meredith becomes Mr. Kipps. He is surprisingly at ease in the many roles he takes on in this show as it unfolds into a tale of mystery and fear. Each emerges with a different body movement and accent. He is really, really good. Not to take away from his partner in this scary mystery of the ages, Mr. Cantrell also morphs into various other roles with a skill that comes from an actor that is comfortable in his skin and the characters he portrays.
Set in the early 1900s a slight English gentleman, Mr. Kipps has written a manuscript recounting his experience encountering an evil, vengeful ghost. He was hoping to free himself of this female demon that haunts his soul by writing its tale and presenting it to a live audience. The actor friend is doubtful as to the truthfulness of the tale but is anxious to assist and they go through the manuscript together to work out any kinks. While practicing this theater exorcism, the story turns into reality for the audience and instead of simply hearing it, we see it acted out. Questions emerge instantly. Who is this mysterious woman in black and does she really appear in their world? Does she torture and haunt her victims without remorse? The end might be predictable, but no less jolting.
The staging works very well as the tale switches back and forth from the past to the present.
The actors weave seamlessly in and out of each character and each scene. Jacob Smith, the director, knows how to fill a small area with big characters and play to the audience. Smith is a longtime Theater Unleashed actor and director (Three Can Keep a Secret, Ligature Marks, Boy Gets Girl), and in this production he faces many challenges to keeping a classic ghost tale alive and captivating. The audience doesn’t care about the size of the stage; they are caught up in the dialogue, listening for each accented syllable and trying to decipher the mystery to this plot. Doubling as a huge abandoned mansion, office in the middle of London, or an unnamed actor’s studio, direction and staging are spot-on.
This is an enjoyable take on an old theme.
It is not a comedy but does have its comedic moments. Definitely, it is well worth attending and the acting is very, very good. As they say, cream always rises to the top. Perhaps getting to the heart of the story quicker in the first 20 minutes might make this more broadly appealing. However, that being said, it is still well worth experiencing. Besides the main cast, Jenn Scuderi Crafts as the artistic director did a fine job, as did the managing director Gregory Crafts.
The Belfry Stage
Upstairs at the Crown
11031 Camarillo St.
North Hollywood, CA 91602
INFORMATION & RESERVATIONS:
For further information, please call: (818) 849-4039
Or check out www.theatreunleashed.org