I’ve seen one ghost in my life – a woman in a 1980s housecoat on the veranda of a beach house in North Carolina. She stood with her hands on the rail, looking out at the ocean. There was a terrible wind that night, which is what woke me in the first place, but nothing on the woman moved: not her hair, not the housecoat, nothing at all. I got the sense that she and I weren’t occupying the same time, only the same space; that she wasn’t aware of me at all and would not turn to look at me if I called out to her. If I had to categorize my experience, I would say that what I saw was maybe a moment, recorded, and played back for whatever reason. A ghostly movie.
That’s one kind of ghost story.
Stephen Mallatratt’s The Woman in Black, now at Fells Point Corner Theatre through November 5, is another kind entirely. A man named Arthur Kipps (Sean Coe) has hired an actor, played by Grayson Owen, to help him exorcise a haunting memory from his mind. Kipps wants to tell a ghost story, a true one, to his family to help them understand the nature of what he has lost. The actor, instead, convinces Kipps that the story should be staged, that roles should be assigned, that an audience won’t sit for five hours of exposition, that this is the only way to tell the story.
And so they do.
Solicitors, coachmen, pastors, and clerks populate the tale Kipps wants to tell, and it’s at this point that my role as reviewer is challenged. If we were just besties (as I know we all are) I would whisper excitedly to you about all the amazing things that happen on the stage – the kind of theatrical magic that both draws attention to itself (the stage, designed by Christopher Flint, is baldly, sparely lit by overhead and lamp light, with props covered by dust-cloth either waiting to be revealed or working hard to conceal something sinister); the kind of stage magic that pools under the skin like ice water. (I’ll just say this: rocking chairs remain the most haunted household items, beating out music boxes, china dolls, and box-tube televisions.) But I worry that talking too much at this point about who is haunted in this play, and who is haunting, and why, and how that is uncovered, would be to rob you of the gradual slow dread director Patrick Gorirossi is able to build and sustain.
The actors are an integral part of what brings this ghost story to life and, again, I don’t want to even write too much to you about exactly how this incredible cast achieves what they’re able to achieve because I’m worried that will give away the magic. And this is an incredibly magical production that startles, unnerves, terrifies, and unsettles.
Like all good ghost stories, The Woman in Black doesn’t ask anything more of you than to listen and watch. With its spare theatricality and grounded, expert performances, Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production is a wonderful fall night of supernatural thrills and a jump scare or two. And if you want to see it with someone who will absolutely jump six times and tell you about how his cats see things that aren’t there all the every day then hit me up in the comments and let’s go on a date.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Note: We usually try to include images of productions in our write-ups; however, in this case, because of the nature of the play, we’re going to help the theater with the mystery. I mean, I already feel I’ve said too much in a couple of places. Keep the secrets if you’ve seen it.