‘The Woman in Black’ creeps into Act II Playhouse

Jered McLenigan in "The Woman in Black." Photo: Mark Garvin
Jered McLenigan in “The Woman in Black.”
Credit: Mark Garvin

With more than 10 Barrymore awards, and a Theater Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award to boot, James J. Christy just might be Philadelphia’s most successful theater director of the last 30 years. And, at 72, he’s not scared to take on new challenges.

Christy is tackling the horror genre for the first time. Adapted from Susan Hill’s novel by Stephen Mallatratt, “The Woman in Black” has been a crowd pleaser on London’s West End since 1987. Christy’s version runs at Act II playhouse through Nov. 24.

What have you learned about the horror genre from this experience?
I’ve been a little stymied with the use of music. I use very little of it in theater – and never to underscore tension. But music is so important to the genre. I had to adjust.

Does it feel cheap to use music that way?
Instead of “cheap,” can we say “manipulative?” Yes, that’s how it feels to me. But I’m just learning about the form. It’s so interesting! Last night there was a moment when the audience gasped. But they collectively giggled directly after the gasp. Is that bad or good?

What are the elements of a good ghost story?
The truth is I still don’t know! I’m in the midst of figuring that out right now. But I think it comes down to the right balance of credibility and surprise. It needs to feel like it could really happen, but we need to be totally surprised at the same time.

Why do we love to be scared? Why is the horror genre so much fun?
It’s not much different than people wanting to see comedies or tragedies. It’s just a different emotional button they want to have tickled. I think genres provide a kind of safety for us: You know what the rules are. You know you’re going to get scared, but the rules of the genre will keep you safe.

“The Woman in Black”
Through Nov. 24
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA
$23-$42, 215-654-0200
www.act2.org


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