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Ghosts                  Geva Theatre Center, 2002

Herbert M. Simpson - City Paper

Written way back in 1881, Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts still packs an emotional wallop, as Geva Theatre’s excellent revival demonstrates.  A first-rate cast entirely new to Geva is playing the old shocker with sufficient integrity to show how timeless, true, and powerful this modern classic can be.

Ghosts’ story and ideas unfortunately still reflect basic public concerns.  We see a woman, Mrs. Alving, who sublimated her freer instincts and greater intelligence to an imposed sense of “duty” that caused her to maintain a miserable marriage in a fiction of a happy home.  What happens to free-thinking people in a society ruled by the conformist “family values” of its smallest minds?  And, even now, what if that free-spirited person is a woman?  The ghosts of the title emerge from reflections of past evils and the inherited disease destroying Mrs. Alving’s son, Oswald.

This trimmed, taut adaptation works very well, and since it credits no translators, I won’t name an adaptor.  Those who forget that Ibsen was a poet and prefer Arthur Miller's adaptation of An Enemy of the People to Ibsen's original version will prefer this Ghosts, which cuts out the melodramatic Act I and Act 2 curtain lines, cuts the intermission between Act 2 and 3, and edits the wordier speeches to keep the drama hustling along.  Since even the original Ghosts jumped abruptly into Oswald’s mental breakdown as soon as he predicted it, it seems sensible to get on with the preceding scenes, too.  And Geva’s Ghosts certainly does.

But there’s no watering down of a classic drama here.  Tim Ocel’s beautifully blocked, tightly directed production is smartly gauged to achieve maximum honesty with understated dramatic force.  Erhard Rom's gray, sterile set has handsome furniture pieces, a dominant rain curtain, and a suggestive, harshly unrealistic perimeter.  Allen Hahn’s sensitive lighting helps emphasize lbsen’s famous indictment of cold, dark, Norway—soul-destroying even in its great houses on noble fiords.  Never suggesting a costume drama from the past, B. Modern's costumes seem both right for the characters and authentically in period.  And perhaps the most impressive artistic element of this production, Gregg Coffin’s stunning original music is a model of stark, powerfully jarring moments achieved very economically through dynamic thrusts of piano and percussion.

Laura Esterman commands the great role of Mrs. Alving with such a quiet authority that her final horror is chilling.  Saxon Palmer’s Oswald moves most effectively from young appeal to passionate fear and ultimately deadened sensibility.  Dan Kremer’s Pastor Manders makes us understand that laughable, stifling stuffed shirt to be an ultimately pitiable man unqualified for leadership.  James Gale is amusing as the vulgar, manipulative Jacob Engstrand, but also suggests a virility and intelligence to rise above stereotype.  And Alisa McKinney’s nicely layered Regina Engstrand is all the hopeful beauty, thwarted innocence, floozy, and resilient survivor that her small role has to encompass.

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Saxon Palmer / Laura Esterman



Geva Theatre Center


Photo: Ken Huth