In keeping with the haunted month of October, Raleigh Little Theatre is reprising a play that they put on with great success a number of years ago, The Woman in Black. Adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallabratt from a story by Susan Hill, the play is the retelling of a series of events that happened to the play's main character, Arthur Kipps (Rowell Gormon). Kipps has written out these events in the hope of explaining them to his family and a small circle of friends. In attempting to do so he has enlisted the aid of a local Actor (Clint Lienau). The Actor is to help Mr. Kipps learn and present these passages he has written in order to put the fears he has to rest.
The Actor (I overheard Lienau explain to friends that his surname was Cartwright) takes on the larger trunk of the play by assuming the role of Kipps and by having the older gentleman aid him in retelling the story by assuming all of the lesser roles in the narrative. Thus we begin a journey that has haunted Kipps for a long time, a story that he blames for the deaths of his wife and son, and one that Kipps has been trying to escape for a number of years now.
All the action takes place in a small Victorian theater somewhere in England in the 1930s. Kipps and Cartwright rehearse the script diligently in this empty theater, using the trunks and props strewn about in order to make rooms, ride in buggies, and otherwise tell their tale. Thus we are transported to a tiny hamlet in the wilds of rural England, where the marshes rule the landscape and sudden, thick fogs can roll in off the sea at any moment.
What Kipps does not know, and what we are able to glean only from the telling, is that there is a woman who figures in the tale immensely, the Woman in Black. Her name is Janet Humphrey. Humphrey has had a child out of wedlock, and has by necessity awarded the child to her married sister, Mrs. Drablow, who lives here on the marshes in an old house accessible only during low tide, on a causeway traveled by pony and trap that is driven by an old manservant. But as Kipps and Cartwright tell us the tale, the Woman in Black appears to the younger man, several times.
RLT's Haskell Fitz-Simons directs The Woman in Black with a knowing eye for that which makes us jump. Loud, sudden noises, screams, and slamming doors all keep us on pins and needles, as these two brave storytellers continue on Kipps' dreaded journey. We are all taken in by the suspense and dread that Kipps feels in having to be in this now-empty, dreary house, and the awful secrets that hide there.
The suspense we feel is the result of two fine actors who are playing actors. Rowell Gormon returns to the RLT stage after a 20-years hiatus; he has performed in two Muppet movies, recreated RLT's first king in Cinderella, and performed as half the cast in another duet play, Greater Tuna. He is joined onstage by Clint Lienau, a 10-year veteran of local stage who is a mainstay with the Cary Players. Together, these two create the entirety of the locales that fill this stage, from the fog-enshrouded streets of London to the rural wilds of the English marshes.
A fine script, a good deal of creepy noises, and the sudden, fearful appearances and disappearances of this malevolent and terrible ghost keep this haunting tale of suspense brewing and bubbling, until the story is finally told, and the terrible truth comes out. Raleigh Little Theater tells a fine tale of spine-tingling suspense, as these two actors try to explain the mystery behind The Woman in Black.
The show continues through 10/23. For details, see the sidebar.