Woman in Black a spooky side of the Iowa Summer Rep


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When it comes to mysteries, there's often more to the story than meets the hairs on the back of your neck.

This is certainly true of the spooky play The Woman in Black, based on the horror novel written by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt. The show will premiére Thursday at 8 p.m. in Mabie Theater and will run through July 7 as a part of Iowa Summer Rep's "Chills and Thrills" series.

Although it is the second longest-running play in London, The Woman in Black is rarely performed in America. But since the release of the film version on Feb. 3, starring Daniel Radcliffe, the story has gained more attention in the United States.

"We thought it would be timely to do," said J.D. Mendenhall, the marketing manager for the UI Performing Arts Division. "It's more spooky than a lot of theaters are doing. We thought it would fit with our series very well."

Described as a classic ghost story, The Woman in Black is about a man, Arthur Kipps, who is haunted by memories of a female phantom he once encountered as a young lawyer. Hoping to cure himself of the frightening recollections, he hires an actor to assist him in telling his story.

Although the play is indeed haunting, Mendenhall said, The Woman in Black isn't your average horror story.

"It's not a Freddy Kruger slasher, where you see everything," he said. "It's more intense theater, where you really don't see the woman very well at all, but she becomes such a scary figure in the play. It has to be done just right, so people's minds will fill in the blanks."

Director Mary Beth Easley said this psychological element is one of the show's strongest suits.

"The exciting thing about this play is that it asks audience members to use their imagination," she said. "And as it unfolds more and more, more theatrical elements come in to help fulfill that imagination and take it even further. You yourself may start to be haunted with the story."

Recent M.F.A. graduate Kendall Lloyd, who plays the "real" Arthur Kipps, was confronted with a lofty task. Because his character is recruited by the hired actor to play the supporting roles in his story, he had to play seven characters.

"It's a challenge," he said. "They all have different lives and have been affected differently by the circumstances in the show."

Despite the hesitation he felt about performing so many roles, Lloyd said, he thrives on his nerves.

"If I do a show 50 times, I'm still nervous when I walk out, and I think that's healthy," he said. "It's good to get that energy going, because you never know what's going to happen. That's what's great about live theater — it's different every single night."

Actor Andrés Enriquez faced challenges as well, having to transition from his offbeat character in the series' first play — the quick-witted satire What the Butler Saw — to his deeper, darker role in the Woman in Black as the hired actor representing the young Kipps.

"Butler is more of a comedic farce, while Woman in Black is a ghost story and has a lot to do with the idea of dealing with the things that scare you and haunt you," Enriquez said. "The challenges as an actor all come from treating the situation seriously. It's not just about screaming, and jumping, and running. A lot of things that scare us are the things we don't see and don't know."

Enriquez also said audience members might recognize some discomforting aspects of themselves in the story.

"We're playing with the idea of this woman in black being a real presence in all of us," he said. "I want them to be scared, because I think there's entertainment in that — the thrill of being frightened."

Mendenhall said he, too, believes that this "mystery of the mind" will enrapture audiences.

"You're trying to figure out what happened, and you're also asking, 'Did I just see what I saw, or is my mind playing tricks on me,' " he said. "People are likely to be leaning forward on the edge of their seats."

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