KEARNEY — Brad Boesen sums up stage play “Woman in Black” in simple terms: “It’s a ghost story.”
Boesen plays the part of Arthur Kipps, a lawyer who hopes to exorcise the fear that grips his soul, the fear of a curse cast over his family by a specter.
“It’s haunted him for years and years,” Boesen said. “He has finally decided that the way to exorcise the ghost — and the experience — is to write it all out and tell it to his family and friends. He thinks by telling it he will exorcise it and he will be able to sleep without nightmares.”
Arthur employs an actor, played by Toby Davis, to help him tell the story.
“He hires this actor to help him with his delivery and his diction,” Boesen said. “This actor takes on the role of the old man when he was young. They then work through it as a play. The actor revises it and adapts it as a two-person play and we see their process of putting it together.”
In order for the drama to tell a powerful story, Davis believes that the plot plays a key role.
“Being a ghost tale with the convention and structure of that kind of story, plot plays a very important role,” he said. “But with only two people on stage, the characters and their motivations are equally important.”
Crane River Theater will present “Woman in Black,” a stage drama adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, at 7 p.m. nightly opening Oct. 21 and continuing through Oct. 24 at The World Theatre. Tickets are $20.
The run features an additional late night showing starting at 10 p.m. Oct. 22.
The tension in the story builds as the two men act out a tale that took place years ago on a dark and stormy night. Davis sees the value of examining the elements of the play in order to present a compelling story.
“We are taking each scene and dissecting it as to what these two people are thinking in these moments — and what is motivating them,” he said. “Why is it important for Older Kipps to be doing this? And why is it so important for Younger Kipps to feel like he has to go back to this house? It creates a really dynamic show with just two people. And that’s really what we want to do.”
The play begins in an empty theater.
Steven Barth, Crane River Theater executive artistic director and director of “Woman in Black,” considers The World Theatre as the perfect setting for this ghost story.
“The show takes place in an old Victorian theater,” he said. “You take a look at The World Theatre and you see the proscenium arch and all the detail there. You have this beautiful, big open space that’s been around for many years. It creates the perfect environment right when the audience walks in.”
Mallatratt, the playwright, adapted “Woman in Black” in 1987, based on the book with the same title written by English author Susan Hill four years earlier. The show premiered in London’s West End in 1989 and is one of the longest running non-musical productions in West End history.
“I saw the West End production years and years ago in London,” Boesen said. “It was a theater much like The World Theatre. It puts you ‘in the show’ more than if you were doing it in a more modern theater ...”
“ ... or in a movie theater or on an electronic screen in your living room,” Barth interjected.
The power of experiencing “Woman in Black” comes from allowing the imagination of the audience to add an additional dimension to the play.
“This show is stealthy in how it hits the audience,” Boesen said. “It starts out with just two guys on stage and I’m reading from a manuscript. And it’s like, how is this going to be scary? As the play moves on and we use our imagination — and the imagination of the audience — we bring it to life.”
For Barth, the unexpected elements of the play adds a frightful element.
“I think the motto of this show will be ‘Fear the Unexpected,’” he said. “This show has seen so many productions, whether it’s in the West End in London or on Broadway or even in the movie with Daniel Radcliffe — or regional theaters across the country. I think the reason that people continue to do it is that this is not your traditional horror film or horror story where there is blood and gore and chainsaws. This is absolutely a story told by a gentlemen about something he experienced. It’s a true ghost story at its core.”
Davis has a simple explanation as to why audiences gather together in the dark to hear eerie stories such as “Woman in Black.”
“Kipps has this really great line in the play, ‘The ghost only has the power that can make me feel afraid, and so I must go and face my fear,’” he said. “That’s a very important line. I personally do not like scary movies but this isn’t just scary to be scary. This play has things to say. We’re all drawn to ghost stories because we’re drawn to the things we don’t understand — and we have to define them for ourselves to make them less powerful.”