The Woman in Black is a thriller that actually thrills | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Woman in Black is a thriller that actually thrills 

The two-man cast gets help from the excellent lighting and sound design.

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Roger Mastroianni

Adapted in 1987 by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill's 1983 novel about a man literally haunted by the titular vengeful evil spirit, this play has been running continuously in London's West End since 1989, and it is easy to see why. The story is engaging, packed with interesting, eccentric English characters, and contains enough jump scares to keep an audience on the edge of its seat. Mallatratt actually tells two stories at once in his adaptation: one about the attempt to turn a man's recollections of a traumatic event into a theater piece, and the other about the traumatic memory itself.

The show is slow to get started. Mallatratt, who spent most of his writing life contributing material to British TV shows like Coronation Street and The Forsyte Saga, is overly fascinated with the process of theatricalizing words—and thinks his audience is too. Much of the early part of the show consists of a persistent actor, ably played by Adam Wesley Brown, trying to coax a stuffy old muggle (Bradley Armacost) to put a little razzle-dazzle into his rather humdrum personal account of his encounter with a ghost. But once the story gets going, it turns out to be a ripping yarn.

The small cast (another plus for a producer looking to contain expenses) provides actors with plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. In the current production, Armacost reveals what a true chameleon he is, playing one minute a stuffy and dull accountant, the next a grizzled old codger, and a prickly local character the moment after that. This is also a show where much depends on strong lighting and sound design; Kevin Sleep (lighting) and Rod Mead (sound) do not disappoint. Every element of this fine production contributes to this stage thriller that actually thrills.   v

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