The Woman in White | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Woman in White 

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THE WOMAN IN WHITE, Theatre Corps, at Live Bait Theater. With engrossing concentration, Blake Montgomery boils down Wilkie Collins's 1860 mystery thriller to 70 minutes. Playing a creepily contorted Collins, Montgomery awaits a clerk who may bring over his new employer--none other than Charles Dickens, Collins's mentor and rival. Imagining Dickens as his audience, Collins realizes he has no new work with which to entertain him; in sheer desperation, he invents The Woman in White as he goes, ingeniously creating characters out of such household items as a window curtain and a drapery tassel. The strategy pays off, as Montgomery's many voices offer just enough illusion to animate the objects.

The actor-adapter's decision to "improvise" the novel works extremely well: Montgomery makes this Victorian chestnut ignite all over again (though he omits the delightful Count Fosco), and paints a fascinating portrait of its anguished author. It's a pleasure to watch Montgomery's wild-eyed Collins jump-start his imagination whenever the seemingly unstoppable plot--involving an heiress, her look-alike in a lunatic asylum, an evil lord, and a resourceful hero--grinds to a halt. The fusion of performance and "creation" is so intricate you won't want to separate the two. Ralph Barton's evocative sound and Ben Holt's sepulchral lighting add immensely to the curious make-believe. And if in the final moment Collins confesses he's no Dickens, Montgomery has certainly provided entertainment enough.

--Lawrence Bommer

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