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September 20-27, 2006

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'The Woman in Black'

A Haunting We Will Go: Mairtin O'Carrigan and Jeffery T. Heyer watch their backs in PacRep's 'The Woman in Black.'

One Moor Night

London's West End perennial 'The Woman in Black' comes to Carmel

By Joyce D. Mann


'It was a dark and windy night ..." when The Woman in Black made its first appearance at the PacRep Theatre in Carmel. The play has everything a good scary story needs--bleak salt marshes on the east coast of England, a causeway that runs through the marshes and is submerged at high tide, a bog that could swallow a horse as soon as look at it, inclement weather, a mysterious and derelict Gothic house, a graveyard and, of course, a ghostly, pale woman in black.

Author Stephen Mallatratt based The Woman in Black on a novel by English writer Susan Hill. He took a complex plot, with many characters, and cast it with just two actors. The play has been running in the West End of London for over 15 years.

Director Stephen Moorer brings us a stylish production of the play. Mr. Kipps (Mairtin O'Carrigan) tells the Actor (Jeffrey T. Heyer) how, as a young lawyer, he had gone to Eel Marsh House, in the seaside town of Crythin, to settle the estate of a mysterious and reclusive widow, Mrs. Alice Drablow. What happened to him during his visit has haunted him for many years, and he believes that if he can only act out the events onstage, he can exorcise the ghosts of the past. The Actor becomes Kipps in the re-enactment, and Kipps takes on a variety of other roles.

The play provides a tremendous opportunity for O'Carrigan and Heyer, who both give brilliant and nicely balanced performances. O'Carrigan plays Kipps initially. He then uses his skill with regional English dialects to bring to life the taciturn inhabitants of Crythin, notably the garrulous Mr. Daily and the mysterious coachman. As the story of the woman in black unfolds, Heyer gets drawn in to the ghastly events of years past. He doesn't merely tell the story; he becomes part of it. His wide range as an actor is apparent.

The play is an intricate weaving of plot and character. It illustrates the theater's mission to create illusion, along with an ability to convince us that the illusion is real. The events are played out in an old theater, with minimal props, but for all intents and purposes we are out in the salt marshes of East Anglia, battling the unknown, putting our lives at hazard.

Key factors in the illusion are sound effects and lighting. Credit should go to sound designer Norm Kern and sound and light operator Lyndsey Westcott. The audience in the Golden Bough theater is engulfed by sounds of the marsh and the storm, and drawn into the ghostly settings of Crythin and Eel Marsh House. The lighting transforms a bare and empty stage into something sinister and menacing. Lighting is also used to draw the audience back periodically into reality.

The play starts slowly, one might say too slowly, and this is probably a flaw in the way the play is structured. On the other hand, for dramatic effect, the action must start at a mundane level, building up tension and momentum as the play progresses. Once illusion takes over from reality, the play is up and running and there is nothing to stop it. Watching the play will take many people back to the days when telling ghost stories on a dark winter's evening was a favorite form of entertainment. Leaving the theater after the performance, and walking through the dark streets of Carmel, one might almost expect to find "The Woman in Black" hiding in the shadows.


The Woman in Black plays Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday 2pm through Oct. 1 at the Golden Bough Playhouse on Monte Verde, between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. For tickets, call 831.622.0100 or go to www.ticketguys.com.


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