by Elizabeth Ann Foster
Opening Night Friday, October 29, 2021.
The excitement was palpable. Many theatergoers were catching up with people they had not seen at the theatre for over a year. Patrons were dressed to impress which, added to the festive air.
What a perfect evening: from the venue, The Historic Arcade Theatre to the play The Woman in Black, audiences were served up a seasonal treat and a few tricks.
If you have never been to the Historic Arcade Theatre, they make it so easy you simply have no excuse not to. Complimentary parking behind the theatre opens two hours before the show. You have ample time to pick up tickets and dine prior to curtain. The theatre is nestled amidst a mix of quaint shops with many offering discounts to ticket holders. Even a complimentary glass of House wine at Twisted Vine with your ticket stub and purchase of an entrée.
During intermission, you can preorder drinks and have them waiting with your name on the napkin. Having only a 15-minute intermission I was pleasantly surprised to find ample accessible facilities all on one level. This is not a given. Many historic theaters have stairs and small facilities requiring a mad dash and a certain degree of agility.
Many people are familiar with the movie version of “A Woman in Black,” made popular in part by the actor Danielle Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Forget it. The Florida Repertory Theatre uses the adapted version by Stephen Mallatratt, which has been a long-running hit in the West End of London and now with the original West End cast in NYC’s McKittrick hotel venue.
What makes the Florida Rep’s version so tantalizing is the venue. Set in the Historic Arcade in an intimate theatre it becomes the victorian theatre needed for the plot. Alyssandra Doghert’s lighting design is “brilliant.” The mood is set from the moment you enter the theater and the play begins. An amazing full moon casting shadows over the gravesite scene is as stirring as the seashells illuminated haphazardly at the edge of the stage flickering throughout the acts.
The play in two acts opens with Arthur Kipps (David Darrow) reading aloud from a manuscript of his story. Darrow steals the show immediately. He instructs the Actor played by Ensemble actor V. Craig Heidenreich to “Tell it in a manner remotely palatable” after Heidenreich drolls on reading a script in absolute monotone. Darrow’s effervescence is apparent and in sharp contrast to Heidenreich, and the two play off of each other to create an intimate theater experience only live theater can deliver.
After the two agree the Actor will play younger Kipps, Kipps himself plays all the other characters and narrates the play. The plot follows the younger Kipps as he learns of the death of a widow and visits her estate to sort through her papers.
They make the journey to the house accessible in low tide and that is when all the fun begins. Noises and hints are revealed as the audience learns what has transpired and in the end, is left to wonder what happens next. Joel Abbott does a brilliant job as sound designer, flawlessly weaving a myriad of sounds into the production. The only way to interpret and understand the action is to hear many parts, so listen carefully even if you close your eyes.
Scenic designer Jim Hunter sets the entire theater in a fog. From the journey to the estate until the last moment the wafting fog brings you directly to the remote village in England. I had to put on my sweater–it was that bone-chilling.
We were warned at the beginning of the show the sound of unwrapping candies can travel 5 miles. During the second act there was about a 10-mile unwrapping. In a surreal manner, it added to the atmosphere where usually it would have been a distraction. Best not to make a sound during this performance as the entire production hinges on it and Abbott’s delivering it – not us.
“The Woman in Black” is Adapted by Stephen Mallatrat based on the novel by Susan Hill.
WITH: David Darrow (Arthur Kipps); V Craig Heidenreich (The Actor).
Directed by Steve Pacek, Set Designer Jim Hunter, Costume Designer Jillian Parzych, Lighting Designer Alyssandra Docherty, Sound Designer Joel Abbott, and Ensemble Stage Manager Janine Wochna.
Presented at the Historic Arcade Theatre, 2267 First St, Ft. Myers FL. Oct. 29 – Nov. 14 with discounted previews Oct. 26 – 28. Tickets are $59/$55 and $39/$35 for previews. The show can also be purchased as part of any 2021-2022 Season subscription series, and packages for 6, 7, 8, and 9 shows start as low as $224 and are available online at www.FloridaRep.org and through the box office at (239) 332-4488. Performances are Tuesday – Saturday at 7 PM, Wednesday, Saturday, & Sunday at 2 PM, and 8 PM for the opening night gala performance on Friday, Oct. 29. Generously sponsored by Naomi Bloom. Runtime 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.