Ghosts is aptly named for a play which deals so much in absences.
At times, Ghosts achieves an almost Kubrickian glaciality, the tension suspended in thin ropes across the stage in seemingly infinite moments of reflection. At times the play is also just slow, which makes its more brilliant moments of pause harder to appreciate. It’s hard to believe that this production, clocking in at around an hour and a half, was edited from a far longer adaptation of Ibsen’s original.
The production’s strong point is its construction. Director Finn Davis, with the assistance of what appears to be a highly talented production team, has brought the insular, suffocating, muted world of the text to the stage in highly creative ways. The set, a single room created from floor to ceiling white boards, is stunning, and the mural artwork (a particularly vaginal flower–possibly just a vagina) designed by Kryssa Karavolas is at once fluid and mysterious and, when eventually lit from behind, terrifying. The lighting, too, effortlessly grounds the play in its time and place, and composer Josie Gibson has contributed a remarkably haunting and poignant soundtrack.
What impedes the production’s impact is by and large its slowness of action and lack of a stronger dynamic. The play’s slow pace at times results in the appearance of disconnect between characters, even in the middle of heated conversations. This is perhaps part of the play’s flirtation with absence, each character so caught up in the rememberance of their own ghosts, stuck so much in the past that they become ghostly themselves. Certainly it’s effective on a conceptual level, but on a theatrical level leaves the play feeling somewhat flat, more lifeless than ghostlike. Ironically, the dying Oswald is the character who is most alive throughout the performance–Sean Maroney lifts the mood significantly in his scenes as a charming syphilitic Bohemian. Diana Reid is also noteworthy in the role of Helene, the mother plagued by the sacrifices she’s made for her family, and is frequently almost painful to watch in the best way.
Truly, Ghosts hits some beautiful moments. After a few stumbles at the beginning it comes into itself the second half, and achieves some highly compelling moments of drama in its final scenes. It also works hard to grapple with some not insignificant and complex issues, though whether it always manages to is not certain.
Ghosts certainly never forgets it’s a play about loss and death, but I wonder if maybe it should.