Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

men-looking-at-woman-in-black-large-webThe Groves Cabin Theatre of Morongo Valley may have only twenty-two seats and a postage-stamp sized stage for the actors to perform their magic, but that has not stopped them from producing quality work.  To date, the tiny theatre under the artistic direction of founder Joy Groves, has garnered more than sixty Desert Theatre League (DTL) awards for excellence over the years.

Their current production of the classic English ghost-story drama “The Woman in Black” , written by Stephen Mallatratt, based on the novella of the same name by Susan Hill, is another example of how two talented male actors, and a female title character can bring a compelling Gothic tale to life playing all ten characters.

Smartly directed by DTL award-winning actor/director Wendy Cohen, “The Woman in Black” lives up to being the chilling tale that earlier reviews have labelled it.  img_9993-large-webThe play debuted in London in 1989 and is still thrilling audiences in its twenty-seventh year of continuous performances.

The story set in 1890’s England revolves around Arthur Kipps (introspectively played by Kurt Schauppner), a droll junior solicitor as he journeys to the small village of Crythin Gifford, in the north of England, to attend the funeral of a client Mrs. Alice Drablow.  At the funeral he sees a young woman with a disfigured face, dressed all in black, standing all alone in the back of churchyard.

img_9998-large-webStruck by the odd behavior and reluctance on the part of the villagers to either speak to or about the woman in black, Arthur goes to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s home to perhaps, discover some reasons for their strange behavior. The house is a dark, foreboding old house in the middle of a marsh which is cut off from the mainland at high tide.  While sorting through Mrs. Drablow’s legal papers, he finds a box of letters, and ultimately discovers dark and disturbing secrets that surround the woman in black and those around her.  No spoiler alerts for this taut production.  One must see for themselves.

The tale of mystery is presented by director Cohen and her cast as a ‘play-within-a-play’.  The second performer in the production who is listed in the program as just the ‘Actor’ is wonderfully played by Clinton Crawshaw.  Schauppner and Crawshaw share ten different character parts between them and their on stage chemistry in all their varying roles is excellent.  Teri Conley plays the mysterious and somewhat invisible woman in black.

img_9989-large-webThe plot is rich in detail and characterization and requires the audience to stay engaged in order to fully appreciate the many suspense-filed moments.  The costumes designed by Kathy Ferguson are period perfect.  The sound and lighting design by director Cohen is a key component in the production that enhances the mood and the performances. Sound and Lighting Operation is by Blacksmith Braun.

“The Woman in Black”, performs at the Groves Cabin Theatre on Saturdays at 7:00 PM and on Sundays at 2:30 PM through October 30th.  For reservations, call the box office at 760-365-4523.