“And there we are, the lot of us, so miserably afraid of the light,” Helene Alving confides in Pastor Manders. This production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” however, does not share its character’s fear.
The lights are too bright and expose too much of the stage, which doesn’t feel at all like the intimate or homey study room it sets out to portray.
Part of this lack of intimacy also stems from the spare set decoration. The addition of some sort of side walls might solve the problem, but the present seating configuration would have to change to accommodate such a structure. As is, the stage — and even the audience — feels too large for “Ghosts.”
In a play in which one of the characters, Osvald Alving (Andrew Maillet ’11), complains to his mother, Helene (Erin Capistrano ’10), “Look how dark it is … In all my visits home I never once remember seeing the sun shine,” the importance of lighting design could hardly be overstressed.
There are, however, some exceptions to the trend, such as the fire scene after the intermission. In it, three simple lights, in synchrony with appropriate sound effects, convey the idea of fire effectively and with the urgency the scene requires.
This play demands restraint from its actors, and those most adept at achieving this — and not going overboard, as is so often the case here — are Will Turner ’11, who plays Engstrand, and to a lesser extent Jennifer Cohen ’09, who plays the maidservant Regina Engstrand, both of whom, as secondary characters, receive less stage time than the other three characters. Turner delivers a well-balanced and convincing performance. Cohen, though slightly hesitant and cautious during the more emotionally charged scenes, performs well overall.
When it comes to the three main actors, however, I find no better way to summarize their performances than by borrowing some of director Gary Jaffe’s ’10 words, which come from the play’s program, “We are students, struggling with a play called ‘Ghosts.’ ” They do indeed struggle, but surely not for lack of trying. Rather, they try too hard.
Lucas O’Connor’s ’09 Pastor Manders, for instance, remains rigid while delivering too-loud, impassioned speeches. And he is too quick to react when he shouldn’t, such as when Helene, on an impulse, tries to hug him.
Helene’s numbness and inner misery — no doubt the products of years of a dull and conformist life — become, through Capistrano, an undue composedness.
Osvald, a wandering intellectual in his mid-20s who moves in late-19th century European intellectual circles, turns, in Maillet’s hands, into a whining sentimentalist who walks like an upset child.
More often than not, this student production seems to be grappling more with its own approach to Ibsen’s play than with the play itself. And based on Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, Jaffe’s stress of the “student” aspect of this production seems more like an apology than a clarification.
“Ghosts” is approximately two hours long, excluding a 15 minute intermission, and runs at The New Theater (inside Green Hall) today at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.