THE WOMAN IN BLACKby Stephen Mallatratt
Based on the novel by Susan Hill
Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre
Director – Allen Walker
Stage Manager – Timothy Betts
Set Design – Bryan S. Douglas
Costume Design – Catherine L. Brown
Light Design – Bryan S. Douglas
Properties – Nancy Waak
Sound Design – Allen Walker
Makeup Artist – Libby Hawkins Roming
Delmar H. Dolbier – Arthur Kipps
Eric Dobbins – The Actor
Libby Hawkins Roming – The Woman
Photo by Walter Betts
Reviewed Performance: 9/6/2013
Reviewed by Eric Bird, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Woman in Black originally opened in1987 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England where it was very well received. The production later opened in 1989 in London’s West End where it became one of the longest running non-musical plays. The play follows a play within a play format where the actors are relating the story of Arthur Kipps who many years previously had traveled to the small town of Cry thin Gifford to attend the funeral of a Mrs. Alice Drablow, one of his firm’s clients. A short time after the funeral Kipps is asked to deal with the affairs and papers of Mrs. Drablow, forcing him to travel to her former abode, located in the middle of a marsh. While sorting through Mrs. Drablow’s private papers he discovers the woman dressed in black. The best way to know the secret of the Woman is to attend this fantastic production.
The set, designed by Bryan S. Douglas, worked extremely well in the context of the play, consisting of only two chairs, a chest, a stool and a clothing rack. Though the set was simple in design, it successfully portrayed the different locations throughout the play. The simplicity of the set forced me to use my imagination and helped the story to travel between current events and remembrances of past horrors. It also helped to create ambiguity as to whether or not there was a ghost. Directly behind the set was a black screen that partially shielded another room which had old furniture covered with cloths to protect them.
Catherine L. Brown made wise choices with her costuming for the show, fitting her design in perfectly with the time period that was portrayed. I especially liked how the actors switched between characters by changing costumes onstage with the use of clothing from the rack. This helped reiterate the play within the play aspect and kept the action flowing. Brown’s costumes, combined with the mannerisms of the actors, successfully created an array of characters to aid the story.
The lighting, also designed by Bryan S. Douglas, was instrumental in defining different locations, such as when Arthur is lost on the property outside the house. It worked well when The Actor had to go long distances, such as from the town to the house, making it seem as if he was actually in these particular places. The clever use of spotlights also emphasized ever-present threats to the characters. Blackouts added to the ambience of the haunted manor and had several audience members on the edge of their seats.
The properties chosen by Nancy Waak added realism to the set and created an interesting look and feel for the action taking place. Keeping the pieces simple stayed in line with both the set design and context of the play and helped the audience define characters, locations and settings.
The use of several sound effects helped transition from one location to another, taking characters on a ride in a horse and trap to the train station, from inside a large manor to outside in the bog; from the sounds of the city to a creepy marsh ambience. Allen Walker’s sound design added to the overall ambience, making it more believable.
Walker’s blocking worked well, though there were some places where the pacing was off. The beginning of Act I moved slowly, though things picked up a bit during Act II. The blocking also helped to define the setting, reminding the audience that the characters were maneuvering through a very large manor house. I appreciated how he kept things interesting, especially during long monologues. The story was well played by the actors.
Delmar H. Dolbier played the part of Arthur Kipps and an assortment of other people necessary for the story. Dolbier did a fabulous job creating those different personas and made it easy to distinguish between them. His acting for each was believable, and never once did Dolbier stray from his character or confuse which one he was portraying, which was extremely impressive to see.
The role of The Actor was played by Eric Dobbins who energetically presented both a professional actor seeking to pull skill out of his reluctant student Arthur, and the dutiful employee who refused to let ghost stories stop him from his work. Dobbins drew the audience into the story, terrifying them as he recklessly invited the wrath of a ghost. Dobbins also recreated the play’s setting as he interacted with props and set pieces, creating walls and doors to houses and playing with the imagined dog. Dobbins was fantastic in his role, making the show believable and making me feel his fear when weird things begin to happen.
Libby Hawkins Roming completed the cast as The Woman. Roming’s presence on stage was such that she remained mysterious and intriguing but terrifying as well. She ghosted in and out of scenes in such a way that the audience could relate to the confusion the other characters had towards her. Roming almost always kept her face and hands obscured, adding more mysterious ambience to the play.
Libby Hawkins Roming also designed makeup and used her designs to her advantage. While her face stayed obscured for most of the play, her makeup enhanced what was visible, becoming a disembodied face following others on stage. Roming kept her movements silent; a barely tangible presence to make the mind wonder if she really had been there.
Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre opened their first season with a strong production that makes me look forward to my opportunity to see what’s coming up next. I highly recommend this show as an excellent piece of theatre which will scare you and engross you from start to finish.
Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Performances run through September 22nd
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday - Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Ticket prices are $10.00-$15.00, $8.00-$12.00 for seniors (60+)/students or military (with ID); $5.00-$10.00 for children (12 or younger). Any unsold seats will be sold one hour before curtain, if available.