By Lucy Komisar
Arthur Kipps (David Acton), a London solicitor in his 60s, is a man with a story that must be told. In fact, the story has been running in London since 1989. It started in a bar in Scarborough, Yorkshire, moved to the West End, and now it‘s in a bar at the Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel on West 27th Street in New York.
Kipps has written a thick volume about an experience that overwhelmed his life. He wants it staged. But when an actor (Ben Porter), who he’s gone to for help, has him read the opening lines, the delivery is, ahem, deadly.
So, the actor decides that he will play Kipps and Kipps will play all the other parts. Which of course he does quite well, in various British regional accents. Acton and Porter finely reprise the roles they played in London.
This is an engrossing production – among the top level of literary ghost stories — excellently directed by Robin Herford on a nearly bare stage but with lighting and blackouts to furnish a scary mood.
We go back to when Kipps was a young solicitor and was sent to wind up the estate of a deceased client. It is a long train ride, with changes to smaller lines, till he is let off in a small town on the English coast where the only hotel is the Gifford Arms. When he mentions the name of Mrs. Drablow, there is eerie silence.
He wants to hire somebody to help him go through the papers at the house, but nobody will go there. It‘s a large deserted place, and when the tide comes in, there‘s no way back. A local give him a dog for company. A horse cart driver takes him through the marsh.
The story is smartly played. The room is intimate enough that one is close to the action: rows of bentwood chairs, a free drink of spirits (pun intended), wine, beer or cocktails. And the actor moves through the audience to bring one further into the tale.
Strange things happen in the house and the graveyard. Kipps (the actor) sees or thinks he sees a bizarre shrouded woman.
Kipps (the real one) is dealing with the story being played out. Can he go on till the end?
There is a scream. This is of course a ghost story! The door of a room that is locked from the inside suddenly is ajar. Kipps (the actor) enters to see a child‘s nursery. An empty rocking chair pitches back and forth. Suddenly, there is light on a horrific grieving face.
The clue comes in a letter among the papers that fill a large straw hamper. A woman was forced by her parents to give up an out of wedlock child. She entrusted him to her sister, the lady of that house. And then desperately she moved to the town to be near him.
A horrific event occurred, a tragedy. Mrs. Drablow became a recluse. And the ghost will have her revenge!
Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black, was first published in England in 1983. A play adapted by Stephen Mallatratt ran for three weeks in 1987 at a pub in the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough on the North Sea coast of North Yorkshire. It moved to the West End, where it remains, and has been staged around the world. The feature film, starring Daniel Radcliffe, was released in 2012.
A fine evening out!
“The Woman in Black.” Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill, directed by Robin Herford. The “Club Car” at The McKittrick Hotel, 530 West 27th Street, New York City. 866-811-4111. Opened Jan 23, 2020; closes April 19, 2020. Running time 2 hrs. 2/26/20. On NY Theatre-Wire.