It’s good that the Keegan Theatre has not modernized its home on Church Street yet for the musty, slightly decrepit, and highly atmospheric surroundings of this venerable old building make a perfect setting for the suspense and spine-tingling excitement of their current production of playwright Stephen Mallatratt’sThe Woman In Black. This play is highly theatrical with a capital “T” and is very similar to such differing cult classics as The Fantasticks and Our Town in its complete and utter theatricality—it is intrinsically meant to be performed on a stage where your imagination can have total free reign and one can become completely involved in the opening “play within a play” concept. This highly verbose, quite slowly-paced reading of a tale that initially seems like a detached story, then, very craftfully, turns into an absorbing real tale of horror certainly catches one unaware with the skillful technique that unfolds as the story reaches its crescendo. Directors Colin Smith and Mark A. Rhea pace the proceedings with consummate skill and do a bang-up job of guiding their cast of two (“oh wait! I forgot the Woman In Black and the dog and —oops! better not give this story away!) through this tale of intrigue that has been playing in London’s West End almost as long as Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
The two main characters, played by Matthew Kennan (Actor) and Robert Leembruggen (Mr. Kipps), are experts at panotmine and sheer physical presence as they walk the floors of a remote country house and venture out into the misty fog of the dank moors and marshlands. Much of the stage action is left up to the audience’s imagination and it is to the credit of these two fine actors that they succeed so admirably in drawing the spectator into this dark world of suspense. Keenan has a wonderful lithe agility and sense of freedom as he wanders around the musty piles of papers he is examining, as he wanders around the moors and, especially, as he climbs the stairs to investigate the strange sounds that he hears. Leembruggen possesses a beautifully modulated speaking voice as he delivers each part he plays with gusto. He plays a veriety of parts such as Mr.Horatio Jerome, Sam Dailey, and Mr. Keckwick. It takes tremendous versitality to play such a variety of roles.
Technical effects employed to achieve the theatrical wizardry involved in this play are superbly executed by the Technical Production team. Lighting Designer Michael Innocenti casts murky lighting as appropriate and flashes of surprise lighting when the mysterious Woman in Black appears. Scenic Design by Colin Smith is beyond superb – the stage floor is littered with dank trunks and chests for the actors to navigate with and the meticulously crafted upper-level set including winding staircase, platform and child’s room, is used sparingly for ultimate effect and thrills. Costume Design by Kelly Peacock evokes the past period wonderfully. The Sound Design by Tony Angelini is ominous and chilling. The audience volubly gasped and screamed out several times at the evening production I attended.
I must admit that The Keegan Theatre’s actors truly understand the term “pure theatre”- and not only in this instance. Every production that this theatre group puts on is always propelled in purley disciplined theatrical terms to serve the purpose of the playwright with no narcissistic or trendy stylistic flourishes. This is the best production I have seen since their production of August: Osage County. Don’t miss it The Woman in Black! You’ll have a frightenly great time!
Running time: One Hour and 45 minutes, with one fifteen-minute intermission.
The Woman In Black plays through November 30, 2013 at The Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 892-0202, or purchase them online.