When Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts premiered in 1882 it was deemed incredibly controversial and disgusting for what it portrayed on stage. These days it takes a bit more to shock an audience, and Ghosts can be appreciated for the realism and familiar situations its characters go through. The show is set in the home of Helen Alving, who is hiding quite a few secrets about her late husband. The things she has kept away have affected her and her son, Oswald, and Helen soon finds herself facing the “ghosts” of her past. Ghosts is currently haunting Carnegie in a production at Off the Wall Theater.
Off the Wall is already a small space, made even more intimate by the quaint sitting room presented onstage. Unlike their last production, Or, which broke the fourth wall before it even began, Ghosts sets up clear boundaries and lets its audience enjoy the simple act of watching. This sound obvious, I know, but I found this refreshing after having seen a few plays recently that ham it up to the audience.
The performances are strong and also intimate, as the actors use somewhat softer tones instead of more “theatrical” voices. This allows the audience to focus attention and adds a sense of realism that the play needs. If the actors had been encouraged to “go bigger” with their lines the play could have become shrill and robbed the script of its intelligence, so kudos to Simm Landres for the directing choices made there. Ken Bolden does a great job as Reverend Manders, making him a fully-formed character and not an obvious religious mouthpiece. Weston Blakesley is charming as the drunken carpenter Jacob, again not making him a joke but instead a real and flawed man. Sarah Silk plays Jacob’s daughter Regina with a quiet restraint that breaks after a shattering truth is revealed at the end of the play. Virginia Wall Gruenert (Helen) and Shaun Cameron Hall (Oswald) expertly navigate the dark end of the story, eventually arriving at an emotionally chilling conclusion.
Aside from the dark ending, I think a lot of the 19th century controversy probably came from the conversations between Helen and her friend Reverend Manders. Helen had a hard life: her husband was not kind, fooled around behind her back, and when she tried to leave the Reverend convinced her not to. She chose to do the “acceptable” thing at the time and become a wife and mother, but doing so cost her some happiness and provided her with a lot of problems.Helen’s experiences shook her faith in God and led her to reading literature that the reverend views as “distasteful”. Her arguments with him represent a way of thinking that has become more popular in the last century, and a lot of their conversations have many smart points about that life that still apply.
Ghosts is every bit a drama: there are few laughs but many clever thoughts and intense moments. While not as controversial today, Ibsen’s work is still something that audience can benefit from hearing. Off the Wall has a small but hefty production on their hands, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for old theater that can still make you think.
Presented by Off the Wall productions @ Off the Wall Theater
Directed by Simm Landres
Written by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Virginia Wall Gruenert
Designed by Rich Preffer (scenery/costumes), Madeleine Steineck (lighting), Ryan McMasters (sound), Heather Mull (photos)
Starring Sarah Silk (Regina), Weston Blakesley (Jacob Engstrand), Ken Bolden (Reverand Manders), Virginia Wall Gruenert (Helen Alving), Shaun Cameron Hall (Oswald Alving)
The show runs Thursdays-Saturdays: March 5th-7th with a Sunday matine on the 8th, and then March 12th-14th. Tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to Off the Wall for complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: Saturday, February 28, 2015