Dragon Theatre brings us a chilling little horror story for the Halloween season, and does it with enough aplomb to give you goosebumps and even make you jump once or twice.
"The Woman in Black," adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill, is the second-longest running play in London's West End history -- second only to Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap." It's a feat that's even more remarkable given its elegant simplicity; merely two men (and a ghost) tell the tale, combining clever theatricality, supple acting and a ripping good yarn guaranteed to haunt you a little.
Dragon's production, directed by Artistic Director Meredith Hagedorn, relies heavily on the ample talents of Kevin Kirby -- playing erstwhile theater manager, actor and young Mr. Kipps -- and Tasi Alabastro, whose parts include the solicitor, the carriage driver and old Mr. Kipps who has engaged the theater manager to tell his story. They may or may not be joined by a third actor: a mysterious figure in black (Lessa Bouchard).
We first encounter old Mr. Kipps (Alabastro) reading from a manuscript in rather deadly monotone. The theater manager (Kirby) interrupts him repeatedly to coach his delivery and begin making sense of what initially seems a dull narrative. As the manager steps in to play young Mr. Kipps in his tale, older Kipps becomes all the other characters in turn, and the two men begin acting out the tale, with less narrative and more action.
As a young man, Kipps was employed to attend the funeral of one Mrs. Drablow, a reclusive widow in a remote seaside village and an even more isolated manse, separated from mainland by marsh, quicksand, and tides. Attempting to make sense of the mountain of papers left in her dreary abode, Kipps uncovers old letters, and begins to comprehend the strange occurrences taking place, the secret evil plaguing the town and a malevolent curse. How will this all end? Not well, not well, you can be sure of that...
The script does start off a bit slowly, but begins to pick up interest as Kipps journeys to the far-off village. Both actors are quite adept at accents and character voices, and nicely employ mimed movement when necessary to help us envision action. It's a terrific testament to the imagination of live theater and the mind's ability to "see" all that is suggested.
The actors are aided by a lovely, versatile set design by Janny Coté , superb lighting design by Jeff Swan and wonderfully atmospheric sound design by Lance Huntley. All the scenic elements support and enhance the excellent acting to deliver a satisfying evening of chilling theater.
What: "The Woman in Black," adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill
Where: Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway St., Redwood City
When: Through Nov. 2, with 8 p.m. shows Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays
Cost: Tickets range from $10 to $30.
Info: Go to dragonproductions.net or call 650-493-2006.