Son Blocks

Nestor's up to no good, of course, but apart from one ill-fated attempt to mesh gears erotically with Angelo (whose response seems to be no-sex-please-we're-Filipino), Ong's notion of the no-good one could be up to in the old Times Square seems almost as romantically naive as his hero's. Ong and his director, Loy Arcenas, have a swooning fondness for antique attitudes of yearning, sorrowing, and breathless anticipation, which they pour together with the harsh details of everyday reality in an intriguing but ultimately unpalatable mix. Still, Ong's gnomic, loosely strung scenes contain a lot of strong, incisive writing, and Arcenas's harsh, jump-cut production proffers some strong performances to match.

Most arresting is Katigbak, her face pinched in a half-smile of perpetual sorrow, the polar opposite of her gushy media queen in the recent Dogeaters, while Valdes Aran creates what amounts to a rework of her monstrously pious general's wife in the same show, cunningly scaled down and humanized. Pabotoy, who seemed at a loss in Paul Rudnick's Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, finds his way much more effectively through this slice of what's clearly home turf; Ruivivar makes him a slimily appealing foil.


Simon Russell Beale as Hamlet: a noble mind o’erthrown
photo: Cary Conover
Simon Russell Beale as Hamlet: a noble mind o’erthrown

Details

Hamlet
By William Shakespeare
BAM Opera House
(Closed)

Watcher
By Han Ong
Cap 21 Theatre
15 East 28th Street
212-944-8191

The Woman in Black
By Stephen Mallatratt
Based on the novel by Susan Hill
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
212-307-4100

The title apparition of The Woman in Black is a revengeful spirit: Whenever she appears, a son dies. With roots in every parent's fear, this would be a great central premise for a ghost story. Regrettably, Stephen Mallatratt doesn't know how to tell one theatrically. His adaptation of Susan Hill's novel has been running in London for 12 years; the New York production makes that a greater mystery than any in Mallatratt's wordy and improbably rigged-up script. All the stock elements are brushed in, perfunctorily: the deserted house; the ruined graveyard; the recently dead old lady whom all the village shunned; the taciturn servant; the naive young lawyer who arrives from London and finds himself ensnared. You could probably build a story out of those elements in your sleep that would be more effective than the one Mallatratt weaves.

Given Patrick Garland's ploddingly paced production, you might get sufficient sleep to do it during the 80-minute performance. The tape-recorded screams are loud, but the thrills are few, and the real scare material—including a trick ending—is tossed out so casually you almost don't notice it, despite Keith Baxter's considerable skill as the now aged hero and the considerable charm of Jared Reed, as the young actor he hires to represent his younger self. I won't try to explain that; the elaborately snarled theatrical frame in which the story's set is the very worst of the script's unwieldy notions. For a good deal less than the price of two tickets to The Woman in Black, you could spend 80 profitable minutes reading the best ghost stories of, say, Edith Wharton, Mary Wilkins Freeman, M.R. James, and Wilkie Collins, writers who knew that it isn't enough simply to lay out the standard elements of spookery—you have to make them add up. If you must have your story in images rather than words, Robert Wise's The Haunting, based on a Shirley Jackson novel, can still get pulses racing, though it's black-and-white and four decades old. And it has a shattering performance by Julie Harris, who rather outclasses the gents in The Woman in Black.

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