Sunday, January 30, 2011

P&B's "Woman in Black" struggles; Bay City's "Wait Until Dark" delivers

Review by Janet I. Martineau
Nearly 48 hours have passed since I attended Friday’s opening night performance of Pit and Balcony Community Theatre’s “The Woman in Black.”
And I still don’t know what I think of it. Neither does the person I went with.
“Woman in Black” is a ghost story....with an ending as clever and poignant and unnerving as they come. But getting there, to that ending, is painful, sorry to say. Dreadfully painful.
Is it the fault of pacing and staging by guest director Marc Beaudin? A lack of the needed intensity of drama from the two actors, Erich Williams and Michael Curtis? How the special effects and the set are delivered and designed? Or is it the very root of the thing, Stephen Mallatratt’s script based on the Susan Hill novel.
I suspect the latter, with input from the other three adding to the ills. There is no way to know for sure without seeing this play in another production in another place -- like the London theater where it has played for an astounding 21 years.
Saying much more is problematic, because viewers attending need to make the journey themselves into the desolation of an English countryside where there are strange goings on and the residents practically faint when certain names crop up. Suffice it to say, never mess with possible ghosts, locked doors and nighttime.
Williams and Curtis play a variety of roles amid a minimalist set which is suppose to let the audience imagination run amok. Sometimes they even play the same person. A would-be playwright has penned a script about a horrific event early in his life and has engaged an actor to help him polish it up and make it presentable to a planned select audience.
And from the get go this is the play’s problem -- the constant going back and forth from the playwright/actor discussing the script to then acting it out. Somehow, in this production anyway, this makes the show labor. Truly the script is in need of severe editing as well.
Willams and Curtis also do not quite delineate between all their characters. Close but not quite there. Same in delivering what should be a rising sense of scare factor as things intensify. Williams comes the closest, and perhaps as the run continues he will rise to the taxing demands of this role. 
Regarding the set and special effects, too much is left to the imagination, perhaps, as well as sounds which do not quite ring right...but primarily it is the fact there are too many words in this ghost story.
Toss in an intermission just when things start to get interesting, and you shut down what was finally building. 
But like we said, the ending is as fantastic as things can get in the annals of ghost stories. You know it is make believe but you go home edgy anyway and stay that way for hours. So, maybe, the play succeeded more than we thought.
Review of “Wait Until Dark,” presented by the Bay City Players
This review was due Jan. 15, but an accident left me without use of my right arm until now. So, in brief......
I watched her like a hawk ...Amanda Glashauser as the blind woman stalked within her own apartment by a trio of thugs. Would she, somewhere along the way, make a movement or gesture that indicated she could see. Nope, she did not in a rock-solid and nicely nuanced performance.
Strong too were Jim Stewart as the thug with a heart and Kurt Miller as the heartless thug, and Jessica Pichan as the game youngster in a neighboring apartment. After all these years, this suspense play still delivers the goods -- meaning you jump even though you know what is coming. And Elizabeth Dewey directed it well with nice attention to detail.
But what also crops up is how dated it is. In a world of digital cameras, non-rotary telephones and no-frost refrigerators, this script depends on film, rotary dials and frost to carry out its storyline --- with each passing year becoming more and more confusing to audience members who did not live in the good old days.

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