The Woman in Black | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Woman in Black 

The Woman in Black, Stage Two Theatre Company, at Estonian House. True horror lives in the mind. If you want proof, check out this minimalist production of Stephen Mallatratt's stage adaptation of Susan Hill's thriller. Using little more than tricky lighting, a dozen or so sound cues, and a handful of simple props, director Frank Merle and his three actors provide a thoroughly terrifying and satisfying ghost story.

What makes this accomplishment all the more impressive is the fact that Mallatratt asks audiences to accept a difficult premise: that a middle-aged lawyer would hire a young actor-director at an unnamed price for an unspecified amount of time to re-create the events leading up to a recent personal trauma. Any production that gave us a moment to question this premise would be sunk. But from the play's first words, George Ketsios and Rex Clifton Jr. as the lawyer and actor-director keep things moving at such a clip and so convincingly that by the time we have a moment to think, we're already invested in the story. Soon enough we're asked to swallow the mysterious appearance, disappearance, and reappearance of the title woman (ably played by Kate Mura)--and do so willingly.

Merle also turns the liabilities of the Estonian House auditorium, most notably its echo, into strengths. Even when the house is full, as it was opening night, it sounds empty and desolate.

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More by Jack Helbig

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