by DICK KEREKES
How does that song go? Imagination is funny; it makes a cloudy day sunny. Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre latest production The Woman in Black will certainly test your IQ (imagination quotient). Why? There are only two actors and a woman who appears silently, an almost bare stage in an old theater with only a door, a couple pieces of furniture, and a few props. In act II, a child’s bed room appears briefly, and then disappears. The play does have two terrific story tellers, and outstanding special effects and of course, the audience’s imagination.
The history of this play is very interesting. It is a ghost play adapted to the stage by Stephen Mallatratt from a novel by Susan Hill, and that was first performed 20 years ago. Twenty years later, it is still playing at the Fortune Theatre in London with eight performances a week playing to large audiences. Why? It is unique, and I believe people in England are fascinated by stories about ghosts.
The story concerns a young London lawyer who is sent to a coastal town attend the funeral of Mrs. Drablow, an elderly recluse. He is required to go out to her eerie home in the fog filled marshes and to sort out all her paper work to settle the estate. He sees a woman in black with a wasted face at the funeral and then later several times at the home. The townspeople refuse to talk about the house or its occupant, and he learns of her tragedy and who she is by reading the letters left in that lonely house that is often cut off from the mainland by the tides.
This is not a horror story. There is no blood or gore, only a ghost and a fascinating story that is acted out on stage using lights and sound effects to create the tension and suspense. The lawyer, Mr. Kipps, travels to the house by pony and wagon, as you travel with him you will hear the sound of the hoofs on the road. I swear I could actually see the dog, Spider, who accompanied Kipps to keep him company. Actually I only heard were his barks and whimpers but he seemed to be there.
Director Lauren Caldwell’s casting is superb. Equity actors, Tim Almeyer and David Shelton play all the roles, except the mysterious woman and are marvelous story tellers. Both are Hippodrome veterans with extensive and impressive resumes from theatres all over the country.
The production team is one of the reasons this show is so successful. Carlos Francisco Asse’s old theatre setting created the perfect ambiance for a ghost story. Technical Director Michael Eaddy, Lighting Designer Robert P. Robins and Sound Designer Risa J. Baxter combined their talents to create an atmosphere that chilled most of us to the bones and even caused an old skeptic like me to jump in my seat.
The woman’s story is captivating right up to the ending of the play which is different from the book. It is totally unexpected and thought provoking. I would love to tell you more but would not want to spoil the experience for you.
The Hippodrome does something that I wish theatres in the Jacksonville area would start doing. On the entrance doors, they post the time of the acts, and the intermission. I can think of many reasons this is so helpful. Need to let your babysitter when you will be home, you can get it down to pretty much the exact time. Need to confirm a restaurant reservation, or make one, this would help. Have you endured a long first act that you never thought would end and have a need to answer the call of nature? Should I get up and disturb everyone? Well you get the idea and I hope theatres here will give it a try.
The Woman in Black runs through November 9th, or you could run over to London to see it but I can hardly imagine it being done any better than the performance I saw at the Hippodrome. I am pleased to announce my imagination quotient is apparently in top notch shape, because I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful story telling experience even if I don’t believe in ghosts.
Want more information? Go to www.thehipp.org, you can order tickets and see a seating chart. Or call (352) 375-Hipp reservations.
The Woman in Black
by DICK KEREKES