Washington County Playhouse stages psychological thriller 'The Woman in Black'
In “The Woman in Black,” actor Steve Steele appears for the third time in a two-person play.
He said adapting to that sort of script remains a challenge.
Steele, along with Rennes Carbaugh, stars in the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater’s latest production, which opens Friday, Sept. 14, and continues on selected dates through Sunday, Oct. 28, at the theater, 44 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown.
Steele previously appeared in the two-person productions of “A Tuna Christmas” and “Greater Tuna,” both of which were staged at the downtown theater.
“The thing about (‘The Woman in Black’) is that the energy, the tone are completely different from the other two shows I mentioned. The other two are comedies, a lot of hijinks, a lot of funny stuff going on. This particular show is about a darkness that is following this one person around and his attempt to lift that darkness. So it’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.
But the contrasting genres aren’t the only things that make the show unique for Steele, of Jefferson, Md.
“It’s kind of a period piece, it’s British, the lines are written a very specific way, very awkward for my bourgeois American speech patterns. So there’s all of that that you kind of have to deal with in this particular show,” Steele said.
Carbaugh, who is appearing for the first time in a two-person show, agreed that there are many nuances through which to meander.
“There’s a certain energy that we have to have, and we have to really rely on each other, not just in our acting, but on the energy to bounce off of each other,” he said. “And that gets even more difficult when we’re by ourselves. In big musicals, you usually have like a couple supporting characters and then a whole ensemble, but we have none of that. So we really just have to manufacture this energy ourselves.”
“The Woman in Black” is the story of a lawyer who hires an actor to help him tell a troubling story about events that transpired when he attended the funeral of an elderly recluse. There, he caught sight of the woman in black, the mere mention of whom terrifies the locals as she haunts the neighborhood where her illegitimate child was accidentally killed.
Steele plays the lawyer, Mr. Kipps, while Carbaugh has the challenge of playing the actor, as well as the actor’s character of the younger Mr. Kipps.
“Reading the script at first, it was very difficult at first to discern who was saying what. Was it me as Mr. Kipps, or was it the real Mr. Kipps, because in the script he is referred to as Actor? Yes, I’m the actor, so it took me a few readings to nail down who was actually talking. I’d be halfway through the script and I’d be, ‘Wait a minute. Am I saying this or is Steve saying this?’”
The end result, though, will be a treat for the audience.
“(We) have to approach every night as if it were your first night of a performance. You still have to bring that energy every single night, and we have to have it for two hours,” said Carbaugh, of Hagerstown. “We can’t come in here one day and say, ‘I’m just not feeling it’ because then, the show will not work. With it being a thriller and such, we have to have a certain energy and tension about us to make the script and the action work.”
Steele said “The Woman in Black” is unlike other shows many audiences might have seen.
“Even if you’ve come to see dinner theater before, you’ve probably come to see a musical or comedy of some sort ... or one of those that don’t always have a happy ending. But this is different. It’s not a musical. It’s dark, it’s a ghost story. So even if you’ve been to a dinner theater a whole bunch of times, you probably haven’t seen something like this,” he said.
Carbaugh said the ghost-story tag is intriguing to many, but shouldn’t make theatergoers wary of seeing it.
“It is one of the few plays that I’ve been able to find that is truly a serious ghost story that has some legitimate scares in it,” Carbaugh said. “Now, I don’t want to say that that is the biggest reason or deterrent, because I know some people don’t like to be scared. But at its core, it is a phenomenal story about how one man deals with his personal tragedy and works through it.”
Top photo: Rennes Carbaugh, left, and Steve Steele star in “The Woman in Black” at Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater in Hagerstown. (Photo by Amy Dulebohn)