Thursday January 17, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Richard Epstein, one of the two stars of the Vermont Theatre Company production of "The Woman in Black," wants to send audience members home with a little memento of their experience.

"If they’ve gotten some fear and unsettlement, I hope they won’t leave it at the door of the theater. I want them to take some of it home with them," he said.

An odd wish, but par for the course in "The Woman in Black," a suspense-filled, psychological thriller that just might creep you out of your January doldrums.

"People like to be scared, because it’s part of life. It’s sort of inevitable," said Epstein.

"It’s the reason why people ride roller coasters," added Clark Glennon, co-star of this two-man play, which has been running for nearly a quarter of a century in London’s West End, making it the second longest-running play there after "The Mousetrap."

The Vermont Theatre Company production of this cerebral, psychological roller coaster ride opens Friday and runs through Jan. 27 at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St.

Director Jessica Callahan Gelter said she chose the play both because it was a big hit in London and because she’d never encountered a play like it.

"A ghost play? I’d never seen a ghost play. I’d never heard of a ghost play.


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I’d never even imagined a ghost play," said Gelter, who began her research by watching the film version starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. She wasn’t too impressed with that version.

"It was a gory horror movie. This play doesn’t have any blood. This is all psychological terror," she said. "It’s a very traditional, very classic story with a little bit of a twist at the end. It’s all about relying on the audience’s imagination."

"Atmosphere creates the fear, not the icky stuff ... Atmosphere and giving the audience time to let their imaginations work," added James Gelter, her husband and tech staff for the play.

Adding to that atmosphere is the sound design and composition of Noah Smith, a Brattleboro native who recently graduated from the Seattle Film Institute’s master’s program in film composition.

The creepiness, in fact, begins in the lobby, where an exhibit of Dark Art, with gothic, horror and nightmarish themes, by advanced photography students at Brattleboro Union High School is on display.

But the chief purveyors of goosebumps and creepy feelings are actors Glennon and Epstein, who bring to life the clever script Stepheh Mallatratt adapted from Susan Hill’s gothic novel.

The story begins when Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer, is sent to sort out the estate of a reclusive old lady, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden in Eel Marsh House, her home. A chilling sense of unease begins to fall around him when he glimpses a young woman dressed all in black, at the funeral. This weird feeling is deepened by the reluctance of the local people to talk of the woman or of the house.

Years later, in a desperate attempt to exorcise these ghosts of his past, Kipps hires an actor to tutor him in storytelling so he can tell family and friends about the events that have long troubled him. The intensity builds as the play unfolds around the conversations of these two characters while they act out Arthur’s experiences on Eel Marsh all those years ago.

Mallatratt’s script is a play-within-a-play, as the two actors trade roles and bring all the characters of Kipps’ remembered nightmarish story to life.

Both Epstein and Glennon said the play places a lot of demands on the actors, and it’s been very challenging.

"It’s a varied piece of theater. I don’t think it can be pigeonholed too easily," said Epstein.

Performance of "The Woman in Black" are Fridays and Saturdays, Jan. 18, 19, 25 and 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, Jan. 20 and 27, at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for seniors and students. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling the VTC box office at 802-258-1344 or by e-mailing vtcreservations@gmail.com.