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Ghostly drama, 'The Woman in Black,' opens at CTP

When junior solicitor Arthur Kipps journeys to the small town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of the deceased Mrs. Alice Drablow, he attends her funeral as a matter of courtesy. He can't help but notice a strange young woman, dressed from head to toe in black, standing silently in the churchyard. While Kipp sees her clearly, no one else seems to be aware of her.

Bemused by the villagers' reluctance to speak of the woman, Kipps visits Eel Marsh House. The old building in the middle of a marsh is Mrs. Drablow's former home, and is cut off from the mainland at high tide. Sorting through Mrs. Drablow's papers, he finds a box of letters and ultimately discovers the dreadful secret of the woman in black — to his own terrible cost.

This ghostly drama, aptly titled "The Woman in Black," previews Thursday, Oct. 12, opens Friday, Oct. 13, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 28, at Collaborative Theatre Project, a performing arts venue in the Medford Center just across the way from Tinseltown and Cold Stone Creamery. An opening-night reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 15, 22 and 29. Additional performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 30-31, to celebrate Halloween.

Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors 55 and older, and can be purchased at ctporegon.org, by calling 541-779-1055 or at the box office. Seasonal treats will be available for ghosts and ghouls who attend the show on Halloween.

"The Woman in Black" is a psychological thriller based on a novel of the same name by Susan Hill. Published in 1983, the book was adapted for the stage in 1987 by Stephen Mallatratt.

It was first performed in 1987 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. It opened in 1989 in London's West End and is still being performed there today, becoming the second-longest running play in West End history, after "The Mousetrap."

Paul R. Jones directs the CTP production. Ric Hagerman plays multiple roles, Stephanie Jones plays the woman in black, and Nick Walker plays Kipps.

Jones is fascinated by ghost stories and has created layers of terrifying events that are a hallmark of "The Woman in Black."

"Belief in ghosts, ancestral spirits and religious practices honoring them go back to prehistoric times," Jones writes in his director's notes. "There seems to be a human connection between ghosts and our belief in an afterlife or what lies beyond the veil of death. As Hamlet describes: "The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns ..." Or do they? Shakespeare was fascinated with death, hereafter and ghosts.

"But ghost stories told on Christmas Eve? A fascinating history. Christmas in Europe was connected to the page Winter Solstice celebrations and festivals known as Yule. The darkest day of the year was seen as a time when the dead would have particularly good access to the living. In Britain, Christmas was celebrated much like today but with the tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve.

Oliver Cromwell banned celebrating Christmas in Britain in the 17th century, and the Industrial Revolution put tremendous hardships on families who worked seven days a week, thus making Christmas unimportant or uncelebrated. With Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol,' along with commercially produced Christmas cards, businesses began looking to create a new commercial holiday. Christmas celebrations and the telling of ghost stories were revised.

"Ghost stories told on Christmas Eve, in the dead of the year, represent the past, present and future. Ghosts have something to tell us. Perhaps that may explain why we have such a fascination with them."

Playwright Mallatratt wrote, "Darkness is a powerful ally of terror, something glimpsed in a corner is far more frightening than if it’s fully observed” in the play's foreword.

"The longevity of 'The Woman in Black' is testament to its power to thrill and chill," Jones says.

While the play remains faithful to the original story, the script differs with the establishment of a play within a play. The story opens in an empty, unused Victorian theater. Remnants of costumes and pieces of scenery lie about. Out of these, Kipps' world is created as he struggles to make sense of what he experiences.

Mike Kunkel designs the lighting and sound effects intended to transport audiences into the time period and the imagination of the playwright. Set design is by Cassandra del Nero and costumes are by Susan Aversa-Orrego.

A "Woman in Black" themed art exhibit featuring Rogue Valley artists Christoph Sharp and Whitney Rolfe will be displayed in the theater's gallery entrance.

Nick Walker, Ric Hagerman and Stephanie Jones in 'The Woman in Black.' [Photo courtesy of Collaborative Theatre Project]