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
  
Ghosts
   
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.

  
  

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