“They have to be told; it must be told.”
Arthur Kipps, a solicitor, feels an obligation to gather his family and friends to finally reveal a ghostly secret that has terrified him into silence for years. To add to the suspense and the importance of his story, Kipps decides to hire an actor and rent a theater as an unorthodox means to disclose all the details. What could be so important about his secret? What is it that has him so nervous that he shakes decades after his experience? When the hired man learns the tale, he suggests it be acted out instead just reading from the pages Kipps has written, and he proceeds to show him how.
Based on the novella “The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill, playwright Stephen Mallatratt adapted the ghost story into a play and added a twist. Mallatratt’s ingenious idea to recount the story as a play within a play is clever and gripping. This way the “Actor” (Sean Dillon) will play the young Mr. Kipps, while middle-aged Kipps (Richard J. Sullivan) plays a variety of other characters from his story as he draws on his memories of that scary time. Sounds complex but it works brilliantly. It’s the second longest-running play in London’s West End, now in its 29th year there at the Fortune Theatre.
Cape Rep and director Damian Baldet have captivated us again with this outstanding production. Ryan McGettigan’s set design is simply a Victorian era theater’s preproduction stage filled with leftover trappings and props framed by an opulent red curtain with a skewed scrim backdrop. With Ken Chamberlain’s great sound design and the dramatic lighting design by Phil Kong, along with the actors’ deft actions, the audience has no trouble visualizing the horse and trap in motion, Spider the dog and even the cat Kipps kicks aside. Fine tuning the superb production are the contributions from Carol Sherry’s apt-to-the-era costume design, Alison Weller’s dialect coaching and the skills of stage manager Allison Davis. Things go bump in the night many times.
Sullivan and Dillon’s performances are both extraordinary; the two run through an array of emotions from joy to absolute terror. They keep you on the edge of your seat as the details of horrific ordeal Kipps experienced many years ago are revealed. One of the many delights of the production is to see Sullivan capture the initially unsure Kipps and then the one who blossoms as he dons the various roles. It’s a tour de force performance as the actor sheds one character for another with skillful ease. Equally rewarding is watching Dillon’s outstanding portrayal of the Actor as he slowly mirrors Kipps’s transformation and thus exposes the horror the original Kipps experienced. For his story is scary, very scary.
In short, Cape Rep’s “The Woman in Black” is an at-times humorous but most of all a frightening two hours and a great night out at the theater. Especially if you’re expecting a gasp-out-loud ghost story; you will not be disappointed.
"The Woman in Black”
At Cape Rep Theatre
Through Oct. 16, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. No performance on Sept 21.
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, www.caperep.org