Legend has it that the D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre is haunted. A fire in the original 1874 building took the life of one of the Grey nuns who lived there and it’s thought that she’s still on campus. For the next month, she’s not alone. The Woman in Black, on stage now to November 21, is a haunting story in the grand British tradition. Based on a novel, the stage version has dominated London’s West End since 1989, making it the second longest running non-musical stage play in Brit history. (The Mousetrap still prevails).
The Woman in Black is a character-rich two hander where David Lundy (as the mature Arthur Kipps) and Peter Horn (as the actor and a younger Kipps) assume multiple characters to tell Kipps’ lived story. The Kipps family liked to share spooky stories on Christmas Eve, and after many years, older Kipps was ready to share his real life ghost story from when he was a younger man. He hired the actor to help him tell his tale. This is where the fun begins. As the story goes, he was a young solicitor, charged with sorting the details of an eccentric dead woman’s estate. He finds the skeleton in her closet. And in her hallway. And in the nursery. And on the marshes surrounding her remote home. She’s not a friendly presence – a spinster dressed in classic widow’s weeds with a disfigured face – and mayhem follows wherever she goes. Family secrets have a way of doing that.
The whole show is creepy good fun. Lundy is marvelous as the senior Kipps and multiple supporting roles as, adopting a variety of accents, and affectations. Horn as the actor assumes the role of the young Kipps living out the solicitor’s youthful reality while coaching the senior Kipps to breathe life into…death. Horn is fine transforming himself from haughty actor/storyteller coach to the younger, more affable Kipps. Lundy and Horn play off each other very well.
Director Kyle LoConti must have had a blast with two outstanding actors and their extraordinary adaptability. Designer David King built a spooky and sparse black set with a few furnishing to push about. Brian Cavanagh and Geoffrey Tocin – lighting and sound design respectively – had the heavier lift and created enough gloomy spookiness to let our imaginations take over. Creaky doors, distant screams, footsteps, and the usual things that go bump in the night are all there. Set, lights, and sound created that perfect balance of actual theatre and theatre of the mind.Exquisite.
Cynics will breathe a ho-hum and call it all pretty predictable. But when you give yourself up to the experience of being in a haunted Edwardian theatre and spending a couple hours in Victorian England on a dark and stormy night, it’s a pretty perfect experience.
The Woman in Black runs just under two hour with a 15-minute intermission. Touchless ticketing, new cozy seats, vaccinations and masks required, make the evening totally comfortable, until the ghosts waft by. Visit www.kavinokytheatre.com for details and tickets, if you dare.