Lakeside little Theatre made a bold choice in selecting the adapted version of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts”and it certainly paid off. With entertaining performances from the actors, notable dedication from the director and a highly impressive set design, this play was well worth seeing.
It’s set in Norway in 1910, in the luxurious garden room of the widow Helene Alving. She is preparing for the opening of a new orphanage she has built. The self-righteous Pastor Manders has been handling the business transactions related to the orphanage and comes to discuss them with Helene. Helene’s son Oswald, an artist who has been living abroad, has returned under mysterious circumstances for the event. Meanwhile, the maid of the household, Regina, has a bitter relationship with her scheming father, a local carpenter, and she’s also become involved in amutual flirtation with Helene’s son. As the plot progresses, bizarre events unfold, family secrets are spilled and Ibsen shows no fear in touching on controversial subjects such as marital affairs, prostitution, venereal disease, death and incest.
Director Peter King said the atmosphere of the piece was very important to him, and the set design expresses this faultlessly. To reflect the colorless lifestyle of the characters and the text’s dark themes, the wooden floor of the theater’s stage was covered in black. The furniture was lavish and – thanks to stage manager Mago Eberley – it was clear there had been careful selection and attention to detail, so important with an Ibsen production because there is usually only one location that often conceals a lot of symbolism.
An impressive piece that stood out was a model replica of the orphanage. It is not in the original script but its presence on stage becomes more and more powerful as the play goes on. The model was beautifully built by the members of “Mr. Hammer,”the local carpentry program for Chapala area youth. But what really sets the play’s ambiance is the sensational glass conservatory window (or “rainwall”) that runs across the length of the stage.
King said he didn’t want the audience to just hear the rain that is perpetually falling in Norway, he also wanted them to see it! This became the production’s biggest challenge but with the help of designer David Hutchinson and Earl Schenck and his hard-working set construction team, King’s dream was brought to fruition. The result is spectacular and unquestionably fulfills its purpose of adding to the atmosphere and making this production all the more memorable.
All the actors did an excellent job with the script – no easy task as they each had plenty of dialogue to learn over the ten weeks of rehearsals. Furthermore, the conversations between the characters can be snappy and quick at times and must have kept the actors on their toes. When a play depends so heavily on text rather than action it’s crucial to maintain a fast pace in order to keep the story flowing smoothly and ensure the audience remains captive and alert. Fortunately, each of the actors managed to pull this off and the audience was engaged throughout.
Johanna Labadie successfully portrays the stubbornness and naiveté of her character, Regina the maid. Pastor Manders is admirably interpreted by experienced actor Roger Larson, who demonstrated his memorization skills by effortlessly reciting his lengthy text. King transforms himself as Jacob, Regina’s father, by adopting a thick accent as well as a realistic hobble for his unprivileged and handicapped character. Ken Yakiwchuk, who plays Oswald, is able to display his acting range as his character’s mental state slowly unravels with each scene. Monnie King shines as the lead role Helene and gives a commanding performance. She shows tremendous endurance since she was on stage for the majority of the play, portraying her character’s anguish with some exquisitely nuanced expressions.
The stage direction should be mentioned as it is also key in keeping in the audience’s attention when there is only one setting. It was entertaining to see the actors using objects metaphorically, such as sitting in an armchair to show their character’s subservience by being lower than the other actor they’re conversing with.
Ibsen always has strong themes and continuant symbolism in his works and these are still present in Richard Eyre’s adaptation of “Ghosts.” He often depicts bourgeois lifestyle and all the hypocrisy, burdens, moral superiority and scandalous secrets that come along with it. The lead character confined to her home says she is “poisoned by breathing the air in this house” and that it was “a university of suffering” to her.
Of course the title of the play is a big a theme in this dramatic work and the word is mentioned throughout, taking many forms. It represents haunting memories, tired old sayings and past sins inherited from ones’ parents.
The most dominant theme of this piece is the entrapment of society and its ideals and expectations. King believes the subject still applies to modern day society and was a pivotal reason why he selected the play. “We need to invite light into our lives; let us see the sun and break away from the shackles of our past,” he said.
Lakeside Little Theatre’s production of “Ghosts” is a macabre delight. The story, performances, direction, set design and construction, and all the behind the scenes work of the crew, leaves the audience with plenty to talk about and contemplate.
The play’s success would not have been possible without the aid of the following people: stage manager Margo Eberly; Producer Dennis McCary; assistant stage manager Geoff Log; special assistant Johan Dirkes; Set Designers Peter King and Margo Eberley; set construction team, Earl Schenck, Richard Barnsbach, Bryan Selesky, Guy Fontaine, Ian White, Rob Rederburg, Sharlene Rederburg; “Rainwall” designer David Hutchinson; painting coordinator Sheron Brackenbury; set painters Margo Eberly, Geoff Long, Lauri Wagner; lighting designers Richard Perez, Garry Peerless, Sheron Brackenbury; lighting operator Bruce Stanley; sound design and operator Hallie Shepherd; wardrobe designer Marlene Syverson and Lauri Wagner, who was also responsible for makeup, hair and wigs.