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Wednesday, October 16,2013

Knocking 'em dead

Williamston’s “Woman in Black” is perfect Halloween show

by Mary C. Cusack
This month, Lansing-area folks who prefer to be scared in a more passive and cultured manner than running Review from a masked actor wielding a chainsaw in a corn maze should feast on Williamston Theatre’s production of “The Woman in Black.”

Williamston knocks ‘em dead again with the exceptional quality of the production. The middling script is elevated by the intimacy of the space, manipulated by outstanding designers. The story contains all the requisite elements of a formula ghost story: an isolated house near a cemetery, a silent apparition, ghostly sounds that replay a long-ago tragedy and townspeople who remain mum about the curse under which they all suffer. The entertainment value is not in the story itself, but in its execution.

London lawyer Kipps (John Seibert) hopes to exorcise the ghosts of his past, which include a real ghost, by reenacting the events as a play. He hires a local actor (Aral Gribble) to help him with the production, and their fates become inextricably linked.

Set designer Bartley H. Bauer has created a gorgeous early 1900’s London theater, at once both creaky and cozy. Daniel C. Walker’s lighting makes the transition between the layers of storytelling seamless. The audience is quickly transported between the London theater to the misty marshes of a small British village and the haunted manor house. The fleet-footed cast also flits flawlessly between time, place and characters.

The play-within-a-play structure is a contrivance that makes for clunky pacing in the first act, with much time spent on the elaborate setup. The pace quickens, as does one’s pulse, in the second act.

Gribble is a veteran of Wiliamston’s “Tuna” cycle of plays, which also employ a cast of two performing multiple characters. Gribble is a master comedic actor, but this performance highlights his drama chops. As the performance intensifies, so does his character’s engagement with the material. Seibert is phenomenal in his multiple roles. As Kipps becomes more comfortable in his performance skills, his characters become more solid. He masters a broad cast of twee British types, from a phlegmy law clerk to a stoic farmhand.One warning: The woman in black is very real, and one never knows where she may appear in the theater, so appendages are best kept out of the aisles. “Woman” is not terrifying, but it provides enough chills to satisfy one’s fall fright fix.

“The Woman in Black”

Williamston Theatre Through Nov. 3 8 p.m. Thursdays- Saturdays; 3 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m.

Sundays $20 Thursdays/$25 Friday- Saturday evenings/$22 matinees/$10 students/ seniors $2 discount 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston (517) 655-SHOW williamstontheatre.com

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