at Interplayers through Oct. 28
It’s a ghost story with a couple of literally scalp-tingling, goose-bump moments. It features creepy lighting and sound effects. It’s performed well by a versatile pair of actors. It has that spooky, haunted-mansion feel appropriate to the weeks before Halloween.
So why then isn’t the Interplayers production of *The Woman in Black* (through Oct. 28) more successful? Why is it, so often, not very scary?
Playwright Stephen Mallatratt’s script goes into a long windup about the nature of reality and illusion, then gets all talky on us, even during its most sensational scenes. Then it telegraphs its ending badly, draining suspense out of the final minutes. There’s much discussion of how retelling a tragic story will help exorcise its lingering demons; but really, sometimes, going on and on about creepy creatures just makes them overstay their welcome.
The two Damons in this cast, however — Damon Abdallah as the Victorian gentleman haunted by ghosts and Damon Mentzer as the actor hired to help perform an exorcism through drama — do commendable jobs with this material. Abdallah has the showier part, getting to play more characters and demonstrating his versatility with accents and body postures. He’s an overworked Dickensian clerk, an invalid lawyer, a forbidding coachman, a hunchbacked old fogey, a distinguished landowner — each nicely distinguished by voice and mannerisms. Mentzer (he’s the shorter one) nicely differentiates his officious, skeptical actor from the fellow who later on has to undergo a few nights in a mansion isolated deep in the Yorkshire marshes. Neither actor excels at their characters’ horror-stricken moments, but that’s at least partly because Mallatratt saddles them with a lot of self-talk about just how horrified they are.
The show is also strong technically. Dan Heggem’s lighting design slants sideways to cast oversize shadows, then proves especially versatile during one freaky nightmare sequence with lights flashing on and off all over. In a play set in the late 19th century and which refers often to the wonders of new-fangled sound recording, Patrick Treadway’s sound design has to work wonders, and it does: We hear the crisp sounds of the clock’s ticking and the clip-clop of hooves on pavement, and one mélange of sound effects, just as it should be, is phantasmagoric. As director Ron Ford writes in his program note, “the sound and light effects amount to a third character in this production.”
Too bad they’re in support of a thought-provoking, sometimes involving but mostly plodding script.
For comments on Mallatratt’s use of the play-within-a-play and attempt at inverting fictional and actual worlds (and for the second half of this review), pick up a copy of the Oct. 19 *Inlander.*
Creepy trivia: Henry Irving, the famous Victorian actor referred to several times in this show, died 101 years (to the day) before Interplayers’ opening night. Irving died on Oct. 13, 1905 — which was also Friday the 13th.