Drama student directs production of Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’
Jacob Basri DRA ʼ23, is encouraging people to examine their pasts as he directs a rendition of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts” using a translation by Yale professor of dramaturgy Paul Walsh.
Elena Unger, Contributing Photographer
At the David Geffen School of Drama, audiences will soon be encouraged to reckon with how the past shapes the present through a rendition of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts.”
The play, set in 1881, follows recent widow Helen Alving as she grapples with the departed people and ideas that continue to haunt her. The play was written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and dares audience members to reflect on their lives and tell their truths. Jacob Basri DRA ’23— the production’s director — chose “Ghosts” as a longtime fan of Ibsen’s work.
“I’m a really big Ibsen nerd, and when I was in undergrad, I read every Ibsen major prose play and kind of just fell in love with the way he wrote characters,” Basri told the News.
“Ghosts” will premiere at the University Theatre on Oct. 22, 2022, at 8 P.M. and with four additional performances between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28.
Basri went into design for the play over the summer and stage rehearsals began in September.
The cast of five will rehearse for a total of four and a half weeks before spending a week in tech. Currently, rehearsals last six hours a day for five days a week, with an eight-hour session on Saturdays. Despite this rigorous schedule, Basri sources an abundance of joy from working with the actors.
“I love working with actors in a rehearsal room,” Basri shared. “I really do love finding the music of something, I think that is one of the things that is fun about a play that is textually dense, you really do have to find its rhythm and its music.”
For cast members, finding music for “Ghosts” is especially difficult because the script is translated from Norwegian. While the translation carefully replicates the play’s meaning, it inevitably concedes the musicality and intonations of its mother tongue.
The version of the script that Basri is using was translated from Norwegian by Yale professor of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism Paul Walsh with what Basri called “beautiful precision.”
Walsh, a native English speaker from Phoenix, Arizona, picked up both Swedish and Norwegian while living abroad for four years. His language skills and love of theater led him to the niche role of translating Nordic productions into American English.
Walsh originally translated the script of “Ghosts” for a professional production at the 2019 Williamstown Theater Festival; however, he is thrilled that a student is now using it.
“Translating plays by Ibsen is not easy work,” Walsh said in an interview. “It’s traumatic. It involves a lot of cursing and throwing pencils across the room. But once the work is done, it’s a joy to see that shared.”
Walsh commended Basri for tackling such a dense and difficult production and told the News that it is thrilling to be a part of it. He feels the young cast will bring “a different life” and “a different sensibility” to the play’s middle-aged characters.
Beyond transforming the emotional resonance of the play, Walsh believes that having young actors tackle a production as linguistically and emotionally dense as Ibsen’s “Ghosts” will be an invaluable learning experience for all involved.
“As a training exercise — a pedagogical exercise —trying to deal with the complexities of an Ibsen play at a particular place in your growth as an individual artist and actor is really difficult, and I love people facing enormous challenges,” Walsh stated.
Rebecca Kent DRA ʼ23, is certainly up against an enormous challenge as she takes on the complicated role of Helen Alving and tries to achieve a nuanced portrayal of her emotional depth. Over the course of rehearsals, Kent has fallen in love with Helen; she hopes the audience has the same experience.
“Helen is a huge role,” Kent wrote in an email to the News. “It’s difficult to describe her because her inner life is so vast. She has had long and difficult experiences and she feels things intensely. I believe she is constantly functioning with a broken heart and has been doing so for twenty-eight years. I hope I can do her justice.”
Kent considers it a gift to work with Basri as a director and feels his notes reflect “an amazing sensitivity and sense of humanity.” She is grateful to work alongside a cast of “kind, focused actors with rich imaginations” as she delves into Helen’s psyche.
Basri too finds pleasure in the play’s complexities. To him, the satisfaction Basri experiences when actors find the perfect way to run through a scene is addictive.
Student tickets are $10.00 and general admission tickets are $15.00.