The Woman in Black

By - Oct 19th, 2007 02:52 pm


Renaissance Theaterworks revives the classic art of scary storytelling with Stephen Mallatratt’s wildly successful The Woman In Black. Based on the novel by Susan Hill, The Woman In Black tells the story of a man trying to escape ghostly events his past that have haunted him for years. The play, one of the longest-running productions in the history of London theatre, comes to the stage of the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre in a remarkably well-balanced Renaissance production. Milwaukee Rep resident actor Jonathan Gillard Daly plays a London solicitor who seeks to deal with traumatic events from his past by performing a staged reading of his recollections. Unskilled in the art of public performance, the solicitor enlists the help of a charismatic young stage actor named Arthur Kipps (Bran J. Gill.) As Kipps consults with the solicitor in an empty theatre, the story takes on a life of its own.

As an actress, Mary MacDonald Kerr has proven her ability to bring drama (Burn This) and comedy (String of Pearls) to the stage vividly and with grace. In directing The Woman In Black she has put together a spook story with enough startling moments to keep an audience interested from beginning to end. Kerr makes clever staging decisions in the reasonable intimacy of the studio theatre. With the aid of ubiquitous lighting guy Jonathan Fassl, Kerr draws a moody atmosphere of light, shadow and darkness around a classic ghost story featuring two talented actors and a pair of equally talented shadows.

Daly’s real challenge here seems to be the art of pretending he knows nothing about theatre as his character. It’s strange to see a man with Daly’s extensive stage experience pretending to be theatrically challenged. Daly presents his character as a man taking a liking to telling the story in a full theatrical production complete with recorded sound effects. The darkness of his tragic memories is barely on the edge of his consciousness as he delves deeper and deeper into the past.

Gill’s stage charisma sells the role of actor quite well. The character becomes more complex as the story starts to develop its own momentum, but Gill manages a reserved sense of fright as he is immersed in the solicitor’s memories. Rebecca Phillips and Emily Trask round out the cast as shadowy figures. The most impressive part of their performances here is what isn’t seen onstage. Thanks to stage tricks, they’re maneuvering around in what must be something very close to total darkness to strike the perfect pose as the lights suddenly flash to reveal them. As often as this happens, it never ceases to be a shock.

Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of The Woman In Black runs through November 4 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling the box office at 414-291-7800 or online at

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