Gothic Novel The Woman in White Takes to Starlight Stage This Month

(Jill Gelster, Photographer)
Malcolm Cowler directing at Orinda Starlight Village Players

    The Orinda Starlight Village Players (OrSVP) bring their third production of their 36th season to the stage starting Sept. 6 with Malcolm Cowler’s adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.
    “After adapting musical versions of two children’s novels (Pinocchio and Wizard Of Oz), I wanted to return again to a gothic novel, and what better than The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, regarded by many as the first real mystery and detective novel ever written,” says Cowler. “The book is 600 pages long and one of my biggest challenges to date to adapt into a two hour show. It took me about a year to complete.”
    Set in England in 1859, the show starts as Frederick Fairlie (played by Artistic Director Geotty Chapple), a wealthy hypochondriac, hires virtuous Walter Hartright (played by OrSVP newcomer Jeff Kimmich) to tutor his beautiful niece and heiress, Laura (played by Claire Stevenson), and courageous half sister, Marian Halcombe (played by Beth Donovan).
    Although Hartright and Laura fall in love, she honors her late father’s wish that she marry Sir Percival Glyde (played by Remingston Stone), a villain who plans to steal her inheritance. Glyde is assisted by the sinister Count Fosco (played by Ken Sollazzo), a cultured Italian who became the archetype of subsequent villains in crime novels. Their plot is threatened by Anne Catherick, a mysterious fugitive from a mental asylum who dresses in white, resembles Laura, and knows Glyde’s secret.
    “My adaptation is very close to the novel. At least 70 percent of the dialogue is actual dialogue from the book,” says Cowler. “I’m hoping that seeing the show will encourage people to read the book, which contains so much more detail than the two-hour adaptation. People will be surprised how engrossing and readable Wilkie Collins’ novel is, having been written in the 19th Century.”
    Cowler plans to again use the entire amphitheater in this production. “I really liked the way we were able to use not only the stage, but also the audience and park environment to bring my earlier adaptation of Dracula to the audience in a uniquely intimate way and The Woman in White offers me the chance to do it again,” says Cowler.
    Cowler has directed at OrSVP for a number of years, performing on the stage with OrSVP since 1995 and has been involved in more than 35 productions.
    Performances of The Woman in White run Sept. 6-28, Friday and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. and a Thursday performance Sept. 26 at 8 p.m.
    OrSVP is completely volunteer run and no one at the theatre is paid. Anyone who is interested in any aspect of theater and would like to help is encouraged to contact the group at or 925-528-9225.

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