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Scares both subtle and sweeping - The Woman in Black'

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The Woman in Black The Woman in Black

PTC production offers thrills, chills

BANGOR With Halloween approaching, scares are in the air. The folks at Penobscot Theatre are getting in on the act, bringing the gothic ghost story 'The Woman in Black' to the Bangor Opera House Stage. The production runs through Nov. 3.

The play is based on the book of the same name; said book also inspired last year's film version starring Daniel Radcliffe. However, the stage version might be the most successful incarnation of them all; the show has been running in London steadily since 1989. It is the longest running non-musical in the history of the West End. The whole thing is brought to life by just two actors.

Feel free to settle in for a night of frights this PTC crew knows how to do scary.

A lawyer by the name of Arthur Kipps (Mark Chambers) has enlisted the assistance of an actor/director (Brad LaBree) in an effort to tell a story that has been weighing on him for many years. After too many sleepless nights marked by vicious, vivid nightmares, Kipps believes that the only way for him to truly move on from his horrifying memories is to find a way to tell the tale.

The actor enthusiastically takes on the task presented by Mr. Kipps. After paring down the ponderous narrative, the two proceed to rehearse a theatrical version of the tale one in which the actor plays Mr. Kipps and Mr. Kipps plays, well everyone else.

It is a story of darkness and despair on the English moors. As a young man, Kipps is enlisted by his firm to take a journey to the small town of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of one of the firm's clients, a widow by the name of Alice Drablow. However, upon his arrival, Kipps discovers that very few of the town's residents are willing to discuss Mrs. Drablow's affairs or even acknowledge her presence at all.

Kipps soldiers on however, making his way to Mrs. Drablow's decrepit estate Eel Marsh House to go through a mountain of paperwork she left behind and attempt to get her final affairs in order. But there is something sinister in the air at Eel Marsh House. Eerie noises in the night, doors opening and closing on their own and a mysterious apparition a woman in black keeps appearing and disappearing right before his eyes.

Kipps desperately tries to find someone anyone with an explanation for what is happening to him. When that explanation finally arrives, however, it is far less welcome than he had hoped it might be.

Any discussion of this production has to start with the two actors performing it. Brad LaBree has given some memorable performances in recent months, but this might be the best we've seen from him so far. LaBree not only commands the stage even when alone - but manages to do so with apparent effortlessness. We know he can do funny and we see a few snippets of that comedic talent here and there but now we get to see him plumb the dramatic depths to great effect.

Meanwhile, Mark Chambers a San Francisco actor and newcomer to the PTC stage is absolutely magnetic. We are completely fished in by his nebbish, neurotic Arthur Kipps, yet as the staging of his tale progresses, we watch as he completely loses himself in a vast and varied cast of characters. Each individual no matter how long he is on stage is embodied fully, richly and above all uniquely by Mr. Chambers. It's a whirlwind performance, funny and sad and scary. He is enthralling and engaging from lights up to lights down.

But actors alone don't make this show work. I've seen a lot of productions at Penobscot Theatre over the years and the design work is generally excellent. However, 'The Woman in Black' might feature the finest, most complete marriage of design elements of any show I've seen. The lights (by Jonathan Spencer), the set (by Sean McClelland), the sound (by Brandie Rita), the costumes (by Kevin Koski) and the props (by Meredith Perry) all come together in a fantastic culmination a show where every design element complements and elevates every other element is a truly rare animal, but that's what has happened here. From the wonderfully dilapidated set design to the perfectly in-tune lights and sound to the texture provided by costumes and props, it all works in magnificent harmony. 

Director Bari Newport gave herself a monumental task with this piece; striking the balance between intimate and expansive is a key to the success of a show such as this, but doing that with just two actors in a space as massive as the Opera House? A tightrope must be walked and walk it she did. The show plays through with notes massive and miniscule, with none ringing false.

In short, 'The Woman in Black' is a wonderfully creepy way to spend an evening this Halloween season. If you're looking for some shivers to be sent down your spine, this show is a great place to start.

(PTC's 'The Woman in Black' runs through Nov. 3. For tickets or more information, contact the box office at 942-3333 or visit their website at penobscottheatre.org.)

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