Visually Creepy

Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen, produced by the Extant Arts Company Company and adapted by Nemonie Craven, is both creepy and entertaining. The play is directed by Sophie Hunter, who is not at all timid when it comes to mixing multi-media with classic plays. Thank goodness that you can view the ultra-cool set by Flammetta Horvat before the show starts, or you might find yourself distracted by its very unique and disturbing elements: different length wires with working light bulbs attached dangle from the ceiling, hospital I.V. bags hang over numerous potted plants spanning the back of the stage, a transparent cage created out of fish wire maps out the main playing area and three television screens separate the stage in thirds, showing a flurry of images that echo the actors' interior feelings. The play opens with Jacob Engstrand (Chris Haag), a poor working man urging his daughter Regina (Justine Salata), a ward of the Alvings, to come live with him. Things pick up steam when Pastor Manders (Anthony Holds) and Helene (Mrs.) Alving (LeeAnn Hutchinson), two very skilled actors, take the stage. The judgmental Pastor soon learns the err of his ways as horrifying truths about Mrs Alving, Engstrand and her son Oswald's past get revealed. Oswald Alving, expertly played by Paulo Quiros, is home visiting his mother for a mysterious, “indefinite amount of time.” As Oswald comes into the picture later in the play, more shattering secrets get disclosed and “ghosts” seem to be the cause for many people’s torment.

All of the characters in the play have dynamic revealing monologues that are pivotal to the story and possess extreme suspenseful elements. Unusual and identifiable sounds (Asa Wember), TV footage and non-naturalistic staging are used to enhance the suspense and subtext of characters in moments and scenes. But pay attention, because I found myself at times overwhelmed by visual and audio stimulation and missed key plot points. One in particular is a sexually driven scene between Mrs. Alving and the Pastor which is staged with Mrs. Alving slow dancing with the Pastor with video screens playing the couple in pre-filmed romantic embraces. All this is done while Mrs. Alving unveils the truth of her gruesome marriage.

Sometimes tension, sexual or not, is more interesting without explanation. I would have been happy for simpler staging to just allow these talented actors to act. Quiros, as Oswald, does just that and the results are excellent as he expertly plays torment, sexual desire, rage and ill health. The final moment, beautifully played between Mrs. Alving and Oswald, allows the play to end with a “wow!”

Ghosts is a dynamic adaptation, but the multi-media elements at times overpower the actors. Sometimes, less is more.

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