The Woman in Black | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Woman in Black


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THE WOMAN IN BLACK, Blood Curdling Productions, at the Theatre Building. Stephen Mallatratt's long-running London hit, based on Susan Hill's book, uses traditional elements of the English ghost story as the core of a gimmicky actors' showpiece. The derivative but spooky central tale involves a haunted house on a misty marsh, as the long-ago death of a child continues to agitate a suffering spirit.

When The Woman in Black focuses on this morbid fantasy, it produces one genuinely shocking moment and a few satisfying secondary chills. But the central tale is a play within the play, supposedly performed by an elderly attorney trying to exorcise memories of his frightful encounter with the ghost and a young actor he's enlisted for the occasion. Too much time is spent laying out this cumbersome structure, which requires more than the usual suspension of disbelief and muddies the focus necessary to sustain suspense.

Greg Vinkler, who plays the old man as well as myriad minor roles, and Timothy James Gregory as his young foil are skillful and vigorous under Todd Schmidt's direction, but their parts require a display of acting tricks that undermines emotional credibility. Clever set design by Betsy Leonard and lighting by Steve White, aided by Galen Ramsey's adaptation of Jackie Staines's atmospheric sound effects, maximize the potential of a small stage in this intermittently effective entertainment. --Albert Williams

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