REVIEW: Ghosts (New Rock Theater)


Young ensemble struggles with Ibsen complexities


A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen

New Rock Theater presents
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Derek Bertelsen
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts is a terribly difficult play. It is talkie, chocked full of nuanced emotional twists and laden with the secret shames. Indeed, its characters’ morbid preoccupations with reputation may seem absurd to a modern audience. Take Pastor Manders’ (Robert McConnell) recommendation to Mrs. Alving (Brittany Ellis) that she not insure the orphanage she is setting up in her deceased husband’s honor. Insuring the rest of her mundane property is not a concern but, as the orphanage has been established for a higher purpose, it ought to rely solely upon the protection of God alone. Insuring the orphanage would signal a lack of faith, something the pastor cannot be seen in association with. Deeply concerned for his reputation, since he takes care of the business end of the orphanage, Manders presses Mrs. Alving to forego insurance. Ridiculous, but there it is. Mrs. Alving gives way, with disastrous results.

A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik IbsenGhosts is an immensely difficult play to translate to a modern audience, even with mature and experienced actors. Director Derek Bertelsen’s cast is simply too young and green at the start of their careers to give us fully fleshed out  19th-century characters or depict the psychological influences that inform their relationships. Instead, the actors flounder in the sea of Ibsen’s language, often overplaying their roles, then missing important nuances. It matters, because when all is said and done, what shocked Ibsen’s audience in his day doesn’t shock us today. After the shock is gone all that’s left are the relationships—like the relationship between a woman and the man she might have loved or the relationship between that woman and her son, who she estranged herself from for his sake.

McConnell plays a man stiff in his religious views but the stiffness of his body language and delivery comes across as caricature, not as a human being struggling with the disparity between his moralistic worldview and the reality right before his face. Ellis has some beautifully tender moments revealing the hypocrisy of her marriage to Manders and in her motherly role with her son, Oswald (Jason Nykiel), but that seems to be the extent of her range. Elsa Richardson plays Regina Engstrand with far too obvious flirtatiousness for a servant girl of the period. As her father, Jacob Engstrand, Patrick Doolin seems totally out of his depth, with no sense whatsoever of how to play a conniving, ruthless, old, working-class lecher.

The only thing that can be recommended is more acting experience, more research into the period and more lived experience for all involved with the production. As suits the production, Steven Hill’s set and lighting design is quite flat, sparse and unimaginative. New Rock Theater has bitten off more than it can chew with this production. Hopefully this can be a lesson learned about choosing your material wisely.

Rating: ★½

A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts continues Wednesday, January 26th through Sunday, February 27th. Thursday through Saturday shows 7:00 pm, Sunday matinee 2:00 pm. NO PERFORMANCE ON FEBRUARY 12th Tickets: $20 Regular Admission / $15 for Students or Seniors / Group Rates available. Cash or check only at the door. More info at New Rock Theater’s website.


A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen
A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen

4 Responses

  1. I must say I somewhat disagree with Paige’s critique. While I do agree that this play does not translate well to the modern audience, I felt that there were some strong performances from the cast.
    Rob McConnell’s portrayal of the puritanical and sententious Rev Manders especially aroused the senses. Paige uses the pejorative “stiff” to describe the performance, while I would more aptly call this “conscience rigidity” indicative of the moralistic worldview espoused by 19th century preachers.
    The problem I had with this production was the blocking. I felt that there was way too much walking/chasing around by the characters. But I guess the alternative would be to simply have two people sitting on a couch conversing. Additionally I thought the dialog was contrived and wrought with unrealistic language. Ibsen is not Shakespeare. His language does not need to be preserved and can and should be modernized.
    Overall I would give the acting a positive score while the play and production a negative.

    Peace two fingers,


  2. My husband and I really enjoyed this play. It is certainly dark and a period piece but we thought it was all very well done. We highly recommend this play and plan to go again with friends.

  3. This play was a huge disappointment. There was not one ghost, one spook, one specter, nothing. I kept waiting for them to jump out, but it never happened. I brought my garbage bag to save my nascar shirt from the blood spatter and I looked like a fool.

    The only ghostly part of this play was Rob McConnell’s haunting portrayal of Pastor Manders. I was expecting a sixth sense style reveal at the end, that he was a the ghost the whole time, but nothing. If you are looking for a good scare, look elsewhere.

    Shaking my head in disgust,


  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this play. I thought all the actors did a fantastic job. I liked the simple set, and the dialogue was very intriguing. It certainly is a “talkie”–and a serious one at that, though there are some welcome humorous moments. It is not for someone merely looking to be entertained for a couple hours, but it definitely made me think about relationships and why people might make the choices they do. Thankfully many of the cultural issues discussed by the characters are outdated for the most part, but I think modern audiences can still take something away from this play. Irresponsibility, superficiality, betrayal, confinement, religious fundamentalism, escape through drugs and drink–these are all seemingly timeless human struggles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: