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Review: The Wonder of Fright Rises with Cape Rep's THE WOMAN IN BLACK

I'm sure, especially if you are a fan of the horror genre, that you delight in taking certain moments in life to experience the joy of being scared silly with a good movie or book, with the comfort of knowing that it is all fiction and not you who must actually face the monsters that lurk in the dark.

Have you ever experienced such a thing live, in the form of a play that not only makes fear tangible enough for you to squirm in your seats as you sit and watch, but also so uncomfortably fun? Something that, as you leave the theater and get into your car, makes you do a double take to make sure nothing is sitting there in the darkness with you as you depart?

That is exactly what Cape Rep's The Woman in Black, and if you are excited as I was to see this production ever since it was announced, you will not be disappointed in the adrenaline pumped happiness it brings as a result of being properly scared. For this, I am grateful to Cape Rep for bringing to "life" such a chilling show.

Many of you may be familiar with The Woman in Black due to it being the second longest running play in London's West End (twenty-nine years strong), or perhaps you were pretty spooked by the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe. However you were lured to see this production, Susan Hill's and Stephen Mallatratt's simple masterpiece of a true English horror story, one without gore or unnecessary violence, really makes for quite an intriguing production. Directed by Damian Baldet, who appeared in last season's Outside Mullingar, Cape Rep's The Woman in Black tests our mental reflexes as the battle between belief and disbelief ensues - as the senses are both heightened and chilled by the story surrounding this mysterious woman who haunts and kills, and who is scaring more than just the superstitious townspeople. The real question is, when horror springs upon you so unexpectedly, how willing are you to suspend your belief and confide in a good old-fashioned scare? This production begs that same question.

The Woman in Black is a clever tale from start to finish, beginning in the present day with a pretty humorous attempt for Arthur Kipps to present his tale in a manner appropriate for an audience. Kipps hires an actor to bring the story he so longs to share for the sake of his sanity to life in the company of family and friends who will finally understand his hesitancy to share in any ghost stories around the fire; he, indeed, has a tragedy all his own to tell.

The actor portraying Kipps and Kipps portraying all other characters he encounters along the way, the story truly begins: the story of the young solicitor who is sent to Eel Marsh, home of the recently deceased Alice Drablow, to take care of her final business. The townspeople are skirmish at the mere mention of Eel Marsh house due to local superstition about a woman in black who brings about death whenever she is seen on the property. When strange things begin to happen as he learns more and more about his deceased client, Kipps is more fearful of his life than he is in proving that he still might not believe in such a thing as "ghosts." His skepticism soon turns to fear as he bears witness to what a ghost "story" is all about.

With an ingenious set which can easily represent both an actors' studio and the rather spooky and abandoned Eel Marsh house (set design by Ryan McGettigan), eerie sounds which almost prepare the audience to enter a haunted house attraction (sound design by Ken Chamberlain) and the overall atmosphere full of suspense and yearning for a good story to be told (thanks to Carol Sherry for costumes and Phil Kong on lights), Cape Rep is giving everyone on Cape quite the thrill with this show. It makes me smile to not only have felt what true horror feels like when experienced on stage, but also because it is conceivably a different theater-going experience all together. It is so different to sit in the audience and watch two incredibly talented actors begin the show like they would one of any other genre, but then the mood changes altogether: Kipp's hesitancy to perform is pushed aside as the two recreate what happened to the young solicitor long ago, and the show seems to become metaphorically heavier as the plot thickens and becomes darker. There is something so clever about Mallatratt's and Hill's show - why not begin this show in present day, or why make it a performance? Why is Kipps not allowed to represent himself in this narrative?

It all comes down to the play's end and, again, that same question: what do you believe and how much can belief touch your soul? It leads to some pretty awesome revelations towards the end of the show...I'm still pretty excited about them.

Richard Jay Sullivan and Sean Dillon as the Actor and Mr. Arthur Kipps do an amazing job grabbing the audience's attention and, once they have it, never once giving any reason why it should be let go of. Not only are they obviously wonderful at what they do as actors, they work so well together as the hesitant, uncertain Kipps who brings his narrative to fruition by means of the peppy and persistent hired actor. Their characters are as different as can be, energies almost bouncing off each other until they somehow mesh to become of one person, merged to become the cause to the same end. The mere fact that two people can entrance an audience for an entire show is fascinating enough, but their expert skill of storytelling and need to act in their plot while acknowledging their audience at the same time is admirable. Honestly, I was pumped to see this show even before knowing who was involved, but I am very happy that Sullivan and Dillon have such talent to make it what it has become.

To the others involved, bravo indeed.

The Woman in Black opened at Cape Rep (located at 3299 Main Street in Brewster) on September 15th and will continue thru October 16th. Tickets are $28 and may be purchased at the box office, by calling the box office at (508) 896-1888 or by visiting The performance schedule is as follows: Wednesday and Thursday @7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday @8:00 p.m. and Sunday @2:00 p.m. The show runs for about ninety minutes and has one fifteen minute intermission.

Please come and be scared by this chilling story. You're already shivering from the cold outside, so might as well add to it.

Photo Credit: Bob Tucker/Focalpoint Studio

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