Fear play

The Woman in Black

Peter Mohrmann and Jonathan Rhys Williams, looking aghast in the Delta King’s production of <i>The Woman in Black</i>.

Peter Mohrmann and Jonathan Rhys Williams, looking aghast in the Delta King’s production of The Woman in Black.

Rated 5.0

Prepare to be scared. Very scared. Seriously scared.

A woman in black is haunting the Delta King. Her ghostly figure is beckoning from aboard the Old Sacramento paddleboat. You say you don’t believe in ghosts? You say you aren’t scared easily? Well, after seeing the Delta King Theatre’s The Woman in Black, you’ll change your tune. In fact, after leaving the ship’s theater, you’ll even quicken your pace through the dark, cobblestone streets of Old Sac and find yourself whistling nervously and glancing behind at the slightest of sounds.

This production of a Gothic ghost story, presented at that most haunted time of the year, will make a believer out of skeptics. Above all, The Woman in Black showcases the beauty and strength of a theater by making your imagination an integral player in this chilling tale of creaking floors and spooky English moors.

The Woman in Black is a relatively new play with the feel of a Victorian classic. Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill, it relates three tales in one sitting: the story of a horrifying curse placed upon a small, isolated English village; the story of the man who becomes victim to the curse; and the story of the acting coach who works with the survivor to bring the story to the masses.

The cleverness of The Woman in Black lies in the telling, not in the showing. Arthur Kipps (played by Peter Mohrmann) employs an acting coach (Jonathan Rhys Williams) to help him tell his terrifying tale, and the audience members watch the scenes unfold in front of them. The set is simple—an open stage with sheet-covered furniture and a few props, such as a steamer trunk that becomes a desk, train, wagon and church pew. But, because most of the action is left to the audience’s imagination, this play is truly theater of the mind, with language and illusions locking this haunting story in your head and fear in your heart.

A few years ago, when Foothill Theatre Company produced an impressive version of the play, you couldn’t imagine a more fitting stage for this Victorian horror story than the haunting, historic Nevada Theatre. But, the Delta King, with her own wonderful and historic ambience, adds an additional level of suspense to the marshy ghost tale with the unexpected creaks and groans of her wooden structure, and the soft slap of water against her bow.

Director Miranda McClenaghan takes full advantage of the Delta King’s unusual stage. She employs all the nooks and crannies of the theater while allowing the talented two-man cast to spin its spells. Mohrmann is fun to witness as the bumbling Arthur who gradually finds his acting legs, and Williams is a Sacramento newcomer who masterfully captures all his various characters’ idiosyncrasies.

Lighting and sound designer Ron Dumonchelle deserves a special shout out for his impressive mood lighting and supporting sound effects, integral components to this production’s success. The only slight disappointment is the static ghost who would have been more effective with movement in her apparitions.

But don’t worry: Even with her hesitance, she’ll still stay with you throughout the witching hours of Allhallows Eve.