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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Review- Ghosts (Phare Play Production)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

It is a testament to Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, that two productions of his play are being performed for New York audiences this month. One is the Off Broadway production at the Pearl Theatre and the other is the Off-Off Broadway production at the Beckmann Theater at the American Theatre of Actors. I had the pleasure of seeing the latter this week.

Jean Walker as Mrs. Alving &
Alan Altschuler as Pastor Manders

Ibsen is known for writing book-end plays that discuss two sides of the same issue. Ghosts is paired with A Doll’s House. Where A Doll’s House explores a young woman’s journey to making the then unheard of decision of leaving a bad marriage, Ghosts explores what happens when a woman compromises herself and does not escape. The results are tragic, but Ibsen tells the story in such a wickedly humorous way, that the play is addictive.

Ghosts follows Mrs. Alving’s torment at realizing that her only son, Oswald has somehow inherited his fathers disease of “dissoluteness”, which we assume is syphilis. Mrs. Alving always lied to Oswald about his father’s character and sudden demise in order to shield him from disillusionment. She has also hidden the fact that her ward, Regina, is the illegitimate daughter of her husband and an early housekeeper. The ghosts of her lies come back to haunt her as she learns of Oswald’s illness, his newfound love of his half-sister Regina, and even contemplates allowing their marriage to occur despite her secret. Paired with the re-entrance of the true object of her affection—a pretentious pastor, the play is a fast paced drama that keeps audiences gasping.

Essentially, the play is about a woman who is a coward. Mrs. Alving is progressive in thought and much sharper and well read than any one else in her town. But her need to fulfill her duty as a wife compromises her ideals and brings about her ruin. There is no need to do this piece unless the actress playing Mrs. Alving has the ability to hold the empathy of the audience and convey the intensity of the moment. In Phare Play’s Production, Jean Walker delivers and then some. Ms. Walker was charming and captivating in her role. From the moment she walked on stage, the audience believed every word she uttered, and was concerned for her fragile self. The character’s arc worked well under this actress’s command. At times, the audience forgets she is an actress, as she affected no airs, but rather played the part with heart. It is always a relief when the lead proves to be the scene-stealer, for no one could take their eyes off of Ms.Walker.

Laurence Waltman as Jacob Engstrad &
Alan Altschuler as Pastor Manders

Alan Altschuler fared well in his role as Pastor Manders. His naturalism in the role and ease with environment made the pivotal arguments between his character and Mrs. Alving come to life. Laurence Waltman was also enjoyable and garnered many laughs as Jacob Engstrand (think a darker version of Eliza Doolittle’s father).

Unfortunately the younger members in the cast struggled more with the text. Yury Lomakin had a commanding voice and presence as Oswald, but his handling of the difficult task of playing the disease was unsuccessful. Oswald is certainly a troublesome part, as he is quite confident in his language at the top of the play, and by the climax (which occurs in the same day) he can barely string together a sentence. Lomakin handled the task by suddenly playing the pain in fitful moments, but seemed more upset than anything else. Playing against the pain and trying to conceal his hardship throughout would have gained him more ground. As Regina, Sarah Schmidt seemed uncomfortable on stage. Her stiff body and frustrated sighs strangled the fluidity of many scenes.

Director Kymm Zuckert staged the play seamlessly and seemed to have a good grasp of the subtext in the piece. Her infusion of humor into the play is to be commended. The audience even laughed throughout some tense moments, due to Zuckert’s highlighting of the provincial attitudes of Pastor Manders. It was a successful turn.

Overall, the evening was quite enjoyable. The mature choices of the lead actors, humor filled directing, and rich text proved a delight for the audience. If young theatergoers have not had the opportunity of seeing Ghosts staged, I recommend they see this light and laugh filled production.

Phare Play Productions presents
Henrik Ibsen’s
directed by Kymm Zuckert
March 26-April 6
Wed-Sat @ 8pm; Sun @ 3pm (no show March 29)
American Theatre of Actors

Tickets $ 20.00; Call (646)241-0823; online purchase direct link:

American Theatre of Actors | Beckmann Theatre | 314 West 54th St | Manhattan.

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