Enjoy Being Haunted by PICT’s “The Woman in Black”

Sleep much? You might sleep for at least one night with your eyes open after The Woman in Black at PICT Classic Theatre. A joyful terror, this legendary dramatized ghost story runs through November 23 in the intimate Fred Rogers Studio at WQED. 

PICT’s Artistic Director Alan Stanford, who’s acted in this terrifying tale three times himself, says “The play is brilliant and has been running in London for 30 years.” He was eager to bring it to Pittsburgh and to cast two core PICT players, James FitzGerald and Martin Giles, who deliver stellar performances. 

The Woman in Black conjures an irresistibly scary and unforgettable intense experience. There are many reasons Stephen Mallatrat’s play could sustain three decades on the London stage. The script has the hallmarks of the timeless writing of Dickens, Poe, Bronte, and others. The Woman in Black does what good theatre should do–it calls on the audience’s imagination.

(L to R) Martin Giles and James FitzGerald

In fact, there’s little to describe here as the show’s first preview confirmed all you need to know before seeing The Woman in Black. Expect to hear a story expertly told. Anticipate creative design, sound, and lights. And be prepared to imagine the rest. 

The superbly crafted story that starts out innocently enough pulls out the stops once the train is out of the station. There’s no slowing the momentum of this terrifying tale, as drawn from Susan Hill’s 1983 Gothic-style novel.

At the show’s start, the PICT stage is set with typical trappings of an empty theatre–a practical door on a frame, a big steamer trunk, and the evocative “ghost light.” That sentinel in a dark space beckons two men who meet to discuss how to best present or tell a story that Arthur Kipps (Martin Giles) wants to remove from his psyche by the very process of sharing it. He meets an Actor (James FitzGerald) for advice on how to best recount his tale so he can shed the memory of it. 

The set-up seems ordinary. The two men begin meeting to work on the project–likely intended for an audience of Kipps’ family and friends. As they assign roles, they decide that the actor will take Kipps’ part.

Martin Giles and James FitzGerald

The storytelling is so expert that you, like the two men, may question what you’ve seen and heard. 

Who is the woman in black, and what does she have to do with the young Mr. Kipps’  assignment to settle a client’s estate in a marshy, fog-enveloped village far from London? Her presence permeates the story.

Martin Giles as Mr. Kipps

Martin Giles is one of the city’s most versatile and engaging actors. He is a delight to watch here, shifting effortlessly among varied characters in Kipps’ account. Giles can draw laughs

or fear with just an expression or entrance, whether he is playing heroes or villains. His multiple attitudes are physically and vocally superbly crafted with a focused shift in posture here or a turn of his head there.

James FitzGerald, also one of Pittsburgh’s top theatre artists, brings his classy aesthetic and precise craft to diverse characters at PICT. As the Actor, FitzGerald is wonderful to watch as he patiently coaches Kipps on his text and presentation, evoking Hamlet’s “advice to the players.” Eventually stepping into the role of his student, Fitzgerald takes over the sort of Jonathan Harker (Dracula) narration associated with classic horror stories.

James FitzGerald as The Actor

Kipps first-person account of his professional project becomes more supported by PICT’s thoughtful technical support. Effects are indeed essential to the power of suggestion throughout. 

Never giving away “too much,” the set configurations for each act vary as designed by the director with support by the talents of Domenico LaGamba, scenic artist. Keith A. Traux expertly lights the stage and beyond. (Who knew lighting the projected outline of a window frame could so perfect at just the right moment?)

As the Actor tells Kipps, we can better imagine with a few sound cues, woven into PICT’s version of the story by Nick DePinto. Busy streets, marshes, and other moments are created for the audience’s ears. 

Joan Market returns to expertly costume the PICT actors as they move in and out of city and country settings and varied personas. 

Catherine Kolos is production stage manager and Carly Long coordinates much as technical director.

Having attended a preview prior to the Sat., Nov. 9 opening, this writer can confirm the show will assuredly grow through outstanding acting and production elements, along with the shared terror of audiences who are likely to say, “This show scared me to death….but you must see it.”

Indeed, the goosebumps and gasps are welcome. It may be better to attend with someone;  you’ll be happy for a hand or arm to grasp at some of the scariest moments you may experience in the theatre. 

Stanford extends an invitation in the program to “tap into your very primal fear of the dark, the shadows seen in the corner of your eye….”

PICT warns that “the intent of this show is to frighten,” so the company recommends the show for audience members age 14 or older.  PICT continues its season at WQED’s storied Rogers space–soon to be seen in the November movie about Misters Rogers’ legendary work in Oakland. 

“One of the joys of the past two seasons is how much people enjoy our new venue where we have so many new audiences members and company fans coming back,” says Stanford. 

Next, PICT’s vision returns to Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a magical story set in winter, Feb.13-29, 2020. Stanford plans to feature some of the young people recently on PICT stage along with a versatile cast who will double many roles in his imaginative version.

The season will wrap with Hugh Leonard’s memory play, Da, which Stanford calls “one of the most divine Irish plays ever written by a dear friend of mine…a witty examination of what your childhood was and it how it shaped you.” Da runs April 16-May 2, 2020.

In addition to details on special discussions, dinners, and events, PICT tickets and subscriptions are on sale at the company’s website

Photography Credit: Keith A. Traux


Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh-based writer, publicist, actor, and singer, joined PITR as a writer and adviser in February 2016. She began performing and writing during high school in Indiana, PA. The Point Park journalism grad credits her Globe editor for first assigning her to review a play. Yvonne is grateful to Dr. Attilio Favorini for master’s studies at Pitt Theatre Arts, work at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, and believing in her Shakespearean journey. When not working with nonprofits, this lifelong chorister sings with Calvary UM Church’s annual Messiah choir. Having played Juliet’s Nurse for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, Yvonne is now seen in her solo shows, Mrs Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson: The Poet Lights the Lamp. Goals: See all of Shakespeare’s plays in production and memorize more Sonnets. Fave quotes: “Good deed in a naughty world,” “Attention must be paid,” and “A handbag?” Twitter @msshakespeare Facebook: PoetsCornerPittsburgh  LinkedIn

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