The thing about plays featuring only a pair of actors: you better hope you like them and appreciate their efforts or you’re in for a long evening.
And in Powerhouse Theatre’s production of The Woman in Black the dynamic duo of Chris Froese and Burnet McLean strut their stuff with energy and verve in what must be seen as dream parts in the acting industry. And yes, in a play about nightmares.
The first act cleverly opens with the lights up in the theatre, amid a little confusion for the audience, but they soon discover the play-within-a-play concept that helps carry the story forward as well as provide ample opportunity for the actors to reveal their diverse talents and dialects.
The uptight lawyer Arthur Kipps, played by the man with the voice, Froese, has a story to tell, rather he must tell, and the earnestly enthusiastic actor, played by McLean, is just the man to get it out of him.
The early moments have a surprising amount of humour in them as the actors play off each other wonderfully and begin to advance the story, or rather “performance,” complete with surprises and enough food for thought about what’s real and what’s not to keep most brains racing throughout the evening.
I couldn’t help marvelling at the number of lines the actors had to deliver, and memorize, and on opening night my untrained ear only detected one slipup that was quickly glossed over. Bravo.
And on top of delivering the lines, a sparse set consisting mostly of trunks and drawers depicting a turn-of-the-century theatre had the actors manufacturing their own props at breakneck speed, all the while expertly delivering those same lines. Impressive stuff. Especially in the case of McLean, who could easily qualify for the furniture-moving business, or staging as they call it these days, with his wonderfully energetic and complex performance.
Froese moves his share of furniture, too, but it’s his presence that’s more impressive, as is his knack for nailing different accents as he portrays a handful of characters along the way.
That’s the beauty of this production, it may feature only two actors but they get to play so many different roles utilizing the play-within-a-play concept that it keeps it interesting for the audience.
You could also argue that the use of sound effects and lighting, again dream roles for those behind-the-scenes types, also star in this performance and help keep the audience engaged and on more than one occasion on the edge of their seats.
The suspense builds nicely towards the end of the first act and sets up a more thrilling and action-packed final act but it should be stated that the play is on the long side and the dark theme might not cater to everyone’s taste. It’s not exactly a celebration of spring.
However it is a first-rate production on every level that takes a willing audience on a fascinating ride to the dark side and there’s more than enough twists and turns and excitement in the second act to make the time invested well worth the trip to the theatre.
The Woman in Black runs April 25 to 28 and May 1 to 5 at Powerhouse Theatre at 8 p.m. with a matinee April 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca. The play will then be presented to an audience and adjudicator at the O-Zone Drama Festival, hosted by Asparagus Community Theatre, May 6.