Last-chance theater: "The Woman in Black," "Pride and Prejudice" and "Stick Fly"

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 20, 2013

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Let’s talk about it: Biko Eisen-Martin (left) and Joniece Abbott-Pratt share a scene in the Arden’s staging of "Stick Fly." (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Before area theater companies begin their runs of elaborate, family-friendly holiday extravaganzas, there are three adult productions currently playing that are well worth catching while you still can.

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Play
Halloween may be over, but if you are looking for a dose of scary fun, make a trip to the Act II Playhouse in Ambler for its tremendously entertaining staging of the horror classic The Woman in Black: A Ghost Play. Spectacularly directed by James J. Christy and featuring splendid performances by Dan Kern and Jered McLenigan, Woman is an old-fashioned frightfest that makes superb use of the play-within-a-play structure.

Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious drama focuses on an elderly man (Kern, in a marvelously detailed performance) haunted by events that occurred years prior. In an effort to make peace with his tortured memories, he hires an actor—played by McLenigan, in the finest performance of his career—to help him bring his past to life on stage. It’d be enormously unfair to give too much away, but suffice it to say, some things are better left in the rearview mirror.

The second-longest running play on London’s West End, The Woman in Black has become as much of a tourist attraction as Buckingham Palace. Sure, nobody’s going to mistake downtown Ambler for Piccadilly Circus, but one of the many joys of Christy’s production is that it feels authentically British. Under the tutelage of dialect coach Hazel Bowers, Kern and McLenigan’s accents are pitch perfect, and Kern, who plays a wide array of characters, gives a sharp, mature performance that compliments McLenigan’s more emotional and physical portrayal perfectly.

Relying on the skill of the two actors, as well as James Leitner’s atmospheric lighting and Christopher Colucci eerie sound design, Christy succeeds magnificently in igniting the imagination. Only a few simple, well-chosen props bring a country inn, an old train, a horse-drawn carriage, the rain-soaked streets of London and an ancient cemetery to life. As a white fog rolls through the tiny theater, audiences are so fully transported to the cold, wet marshes of rural England that a chill in the air is all that’s missing. And, in the most innovative and theatrical a show as you’re likely to see this season, the action’s not confined to the stage. When the terror spills out into the aisles, there’s nowhere to hide from the strange happenings associated with the mysterious woman in black.

Through Sun., Nov. 24. Various times. $27-$34. Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. 215.654.0200.

Pride and Prejudice
The most welcome surprise this season is Bristol Riverside Theatre’s riveting Pride and Prejudice. Adapted by Jon Jory from Jane Austen’s celebrated novel, the stage version doesn’t attempt to match the visual extravagance of the BBC miniseries with its majestic English countryside and spectacular estates. Instead, Jory’s play relies on shrewd editing and an excellent ear for Austen’s language. In director Keith Baker’s production, her sumptuous words are expertly delivered by a large cast that features a number of exceptional performances. Standouts include Michael Halling as the handsome and misunderstood Mr. Darcy and Mary Elizabeth Scallen, who is wonderfully condescending as the grand Lady Catherine De Bourgh. The main reason to see BRT’s wonderfully romantic Pride and Prejudice, however, is young actress Hannah Kahn as Elizabeth Bennet. A newcomer to Bristol’s stage, Kahn’s likeable performance marks her as one of the most promising actors to emerge in recent years.

Through Sun., Nov. 24. Various times. $10-$46. Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol. 215.785.0100.

Stick Fly
The Arden Theatre Company follows up its smashing Parade with a strong staging of Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly, a lighthearted play about serious issues.

Set in exclusive Martha’s Vineyard, the action takes place at the expansive, well-appointed home of the LeVay family. Like most of the island’s inhabitants, the LeVays are very, very rich—a circumstance captured splendidly by scenic designer David P. Gordon’s realistic splendor. The LeVays differ from most of the Vineyard’s fabulously wealthy residents in that they’re black, and both race and money figure prominently in Diamond’s intellectually engaging drama. Although the LeVay family we meet is comprised of a father (Jerome Preston Bates) and his adult sons, Flip (the fabulous U.R.) and Kent (Biko Eisen-Martin), Diamond’s interest lies primarily with the women. Mrs. LeVay is suspiciously absent, but present are the young maid, Cheryl (Joniece Abbott-Pratt), Kent’s fiancée, Taylor (the excellent Jessica Frances Dukes) and Flip’s white, uber-liberal girlfriend, Kimber (Julianna Zinkel, in Stick Fly’s best performance).

Directed with considerable verve by Walter Dallas, its best moments are when characters are engaged in one of the play’s many explorations of America’s racial inequities and the different perspectives between genders. And although it’s both unusual and refreshing for a play to feature African-American characters that occupy such elevated economic standing, Diamond’s writing is, at times, overly melodramatic and predictable. Nevertheless, under Dallas’ crisp direction, Arden’s Stick Fly is intelligent and entertaining, a combination that’s as almost rare as the people we encounter in it.

Through Sun., Dec. 22. Various times. $15-$48. Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St. 215.922.1122.

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