Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Keegan Theatre The Woman in Black

By • Nov 8th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
The Woman in Black
Keegan Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through November 30th
$25/$30 Student, Senior (Plus Fees)
Reviewed November 5th, 2013

A trip to the theatre is a therapeutic experience; transporting someone to a new and different world can ease anyone’s worrisome mind. Likewise, the prospect of a productive and insightful rehearsal can invigorate any theatre practitioner. On the other hand, horror creates a different effect: unknown entities that go bump in the night can stir up feelings of suspense, unease, and wariness. Indeed, combining these two forms of storytelling makes for an interesting challenge.

Keegan Theatre’s The Woman in Black not only celebrates this challenge, but overcomes it with enthusiasm. With two superb performances by Matthew Keenan and Robert Leembruggen, they production embraces the play’s innovative style. Furthermore, the haunting light and sound designs by Michael Innocenti and Tony Angelini, respectively, make for a spine-tingling and sometimes whimsical adventure that will leave you begging for more.

Stephen Mallatratt’s play is based on Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic novella of the same name, premiering in 1987 to wild appraisal. Mallatratt’s book follows a play-with-a-play narrative. It revolves around Mr. Arthur Kipps (Leembruggen), a solicitor who wishes to tell to his family and friends the tale of his experience in Crythin Gifford, a small market town, where he was sent to sift through the various documents of the late Alice Drablow in her home, Eel Marsh House. In Mrs. Drablow’s home, Kipps experienced hauntings by a mysterious entity simply monikered “the woman in black.” In doing describing the accounts, Kipps hopes to lay his fears of the ghost to rest.

At his aid is an actor (Keenan), hired by Kipps to make his delivery of the tale a little less tedious. The play begins with a heated argument — the actor believes that Kipps’ 5-hour ‘line-reading’ will leave his audience in tears (as the actor constantly assures his pupil, “we’ll make an Irving of you yet!”). Kipps eventually allows the actor to play his younger self while he takes on the roles of the various country folk he encountered upon visiting Eel Marsh House.

The energy between the two actors is positively delightful. Leembruggen’s take on the timid and fearful Mr. Kipps contrasts beautifully with Keenan’s sardonic performance as the actor. They are both accomplished actors and masterful storytellers. Keenan is as charming as he is convincing when playing Kipps’ younger self. He negotiates seamlessly between his role as the young solicitor, the story’s narrator, and as Kipps’ acting coach.

Special recognition goes to Leembrugger who plays each townsperson with professional distinction. His performance, in particular, makes the narrative all the more clearer. Undoubtedly, should another actor have played Kipps, the audience might have found themselves lost in Mallatratt’s complex tale. As for the dreaded woman in black, you’ll just have to see for yourself!

Colin Smith’s set design immediately transports the audience into a sparsely dressed Victorian playhouse which mirrors perfectly as the haunted home. Like many of Keegan’s past productions, The Woman in Black makes brilliant use of the theater’s red brick walls — it creates an intimate environment that is absolutely necessary for a play of this kind. Even the theater’s dusty smell completely immerses the audience into the world of the play.

The lighting design, with its use of exaggerated shadows and intense front lights, is reminiscent of the film noir style. Much of the design is subtle — as an audience member, I found myself subconsciously looking around to catch a glimpse of the “young woman with the wasted face.” Finally, the sound design is what makes this ghost story so terrifying: it plays with the notion that what we don’t see is what scares us the most. Filled with a cacophony of altered voices, screams, and creaking doors, Angelini’s sound design creates an eerie atmosphere that would make film directors like James Wan and Dario Argento proud.

Overall, Keegan Theatre’s The Woman in Black is a strong piece of theatre and a truly chilling ghost story. The play’s length is its greatest strength: were it any longer the experience would have quickly grown tedious, but were it any shorter, the audience would arguably have left unsatisfied. It may not be the most thought-provoking piece of theatre, but it is, without a doubt, a play you do not want to miss. Thank you, Keegan, for once again giving DC theatre-goers an experience we have not seen in a while.

Photo Gallery

Matthew Keenan Robert Leembruggen
Matthew Keenan
Robert Leembruggen
Robert Leembruggen, Matthew Keenan Matthew Keenan, Robert Leembruggen
Robert Leembruggen, Matthew Keenan
Matthew Keenan, Robert Leembruggen
Matthew Keenan Matthew Keenan
Matthew Keenan
Matthew Keenan

Photos by Cameron Whitman


  • Matthew Keenan: Actor
  • Robert Leembrugger: Mr. Kipps


  • Mark Rhea: Co-Director
  • Colin Smith: Co-Director and Scenic Designer
  • Carol Floretta Hood Baker: Set Dressing and Properties Design
  • Tony Angelini: Sound Design
  • Michael Innocenti: Lighting Design
  • Dan Deiter: Stage Manager
  • Craig Miller: Hair and Make-Up Design
  • Kelly Peacock: Costume Design

Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is a recent graduate of Guilford College with a major in Theatre Studies -- history/literature track -- and a minor in German Language and Society from Rockville, MD. He is currently pursuing his interests in dramaturgy. He is currently the dramaturg for Field Trip Theatre's workshop and staged reading of local playwright Adi Stein's The Will. He is also working on several adaptation projects. Jacob's web site

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