The Woman in Black
A gothic delight that Londoners have enjoyed non-stop for the past 20 years can once again be found in Denver, just in time for the Halloween season. As shadows lengthen from the sun's ever-lower daytime arc, and autumnal fogs begin to play tricks on the mind, the murky atmosphere of Eel Marsh House provides a perfect setting for an eerie tale.
Located at the end of Nine Lives Causeway—a tentative track cut through the marshes, which vanishes beneath the tides each evening—the East England seacoast manor holds unspeakable secrets that prey upon the locals and anyone else who dares venture upon its grounds.
Arthur Kipps (Lawrence Hecht), a middle-aged solicitor, engages the younger Actor (Andrew Horwitz) to help him prepare his presentation of a story he has written about a disturbing series of events that began when he was the Actor's age.
|(L to R) Andrew Horwitz as the Actor
and Lawrence Hecht as Arthur Kipps
Hecht's experience shows in Kipps' muted but persistent idiosyncrasies and his struggle to improve his presentation: the case of an accomplished actor pretending to be a bad actor—a depiction fraught with perils, but one which Hecht navigates with ease.
Horwitz has the opposite challenge, to live up to the Actor's bravado—a guarantee to bring Kipps' story to life—and he does so with aplomb, morphing seamlessly into Kipps as a young man, eager to take on the seeming drudgery of travelling to a backwater to tidy up the estate of a deceased client.
Hecht, as the present-day Kipps encouraged by the Actor's instruction and praise, then switches to a series of supportive roles, which he inhabits with relish, while Horowitz, unleashed from his role as instructor, dives into the growing perturbations of young Kipps' once steady demeanor, subtly revealing the fissures of doubt.
|(L to R) Lawrence Hecht as Keckwick
and Andrew Horwitz as Kipps
The script's shifting narrative point-of-view and character cross-pollinations add psychological depth to the novel's original straightforward storyline, as well as a backstage element that comments on the ancient rituals of theatrical medium itself.
As the story unfolds, tense moments increase in frequency, with the unforeseen fog and the elusive ghost appearing unexpectedly upstage and down.
The dynamic of these two "killers" should push us into an unsafe place that is frighteningly thrilling—and with the fog, this is true—but the appearances of the ghost leave us wanting for more effective uses of the special effects (scrim and lighting)—where sudden apparitions throughout the space should cause me anxiety over the empty seat next to me and the unlit street on the way to my car.
Still, the terror that followed Kipps sticks with me.
Modern Muse Theatre Company's production of The Woman in Black runs through November 14th at Margery Reed Hall, the University of Denver, University Boulevard and Evans Avenue. 303-780-7836.