A mysterious woman, raggedly dressed in black and with a hauntingly deformed face, appears at a funeral in a small coastal town named Crythin Gifford, in 19th century England. The frightened townsfolk deny anyone was ever there, but one man, dispatched from the city to investigate the estate of the deceased, gets drawn into the mysterious woman’s world — much to his terminal dismay.
“The Woman in Black” takes off from that central plot point. The play — wildly popular in its native England and a regular favorite on stages in the U.S. — is set to premiere at the Penobscot Theatre Company on Thursday, Oct. 17, with performances through Nov. 3. Playwright Stephen Mallatratt adapted the storyline from the book by Susan Hill, and it today is ranked as the second-longest running non-musical theatrical production in London’s West End.
It’s ideal Halloween theatrical fare, replete with fog, fantastical lighting and periods of sustained creepiness. It’s not a shocker, so much as an eerie mood piece that builds to a climax.
“It’s not horror. It’s not overtly scary, so much as it’s suspenseful. It will make you feel very uneasy,” said PTC Artistic Director Bari Newport, who also is directing the show. “It’s a ghost play. There is something haunting this stage. In fact, the stage itself is one of the characters, in a way.”
“The Woman in Black” is a two-man show — the main character, the lawyer Arthur Kipps, is played by Mark Chambers, a San Francisco-based actor with whom Newport has worked while both were in Florida. Kipps tells the story of how the titular woman has haunted his whole life to a young actor in a Victorian playhouse, in the hopes that re-enacting his story will lift the curse the woman has put on him. The young actor is played by regular PTC performer Brad LaBree.
Throughout the play, the two actors take on lots of different roles — LaBree plays Kipps as a younger man, while Chambers plays various townsfolk from Crythin Gifford.
“It’s really a showcase for these two actors,” said Newport. “I know from working with Mark that he’s really amazing at transforming himself into all kinds of different people. He disappears into whatever role he’s given.”
The set, designed by Sean McClelland [PTC’s “The Sugar Bean Sisters”], showcases the Opera House stage at its most stark and old-fashioned, allowing the brick back wall to become a backdrop for a set that’s minimal and spooky. Doors creak. Fog rolls in. The woman appears and disappears. The lighting, by Jonathan Spencer, and the sound, by Brandie Rita, only add to the atmospheric quality of the show.
“The Woman in Black” opens Thursday, Oct. 17. Performances are set for Wednesdays through Sundays through Nov. 3, with shows at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, except for Oct. 19, when the show is at 5 p.m. Tickets are available at the PTC box office or by calling 942-3333. Those who have purchased tickets to the shows on either Oct. 19 or 31 can also purchase a $12 ticket to participate in a Ghost Tour of the Bangor Opera House immediately following the performance, led by the East Coast Ghost Trackers.