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Play review: ‘Ghosts’ haunts Trahern stage

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I recently had the privilege of attending the Friday night performance of “Ghosts,” which was performed in the Trahern building from Wednesday, April 15, to Sunday, April 19.

The first thing I noticed was the slanted stage. It was like the house was sliding down a hill, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the actors would be able to cope with the uneven footing. To my surprise, however, they didn’t seem fazed whatsoever. They moved through the set like nothing was wrong, and in time, I managed to forget it was unusual at all.

Scenic Designer Ben McCormack, a senior theatre design and technology major, said the slanted floor was the toughest part of building the set.

“It was easily the most time- and labor-intensive part of the set,” McCormack said. “Each piece of flooring was individually created and installed, almost making the floor a work of artistry and craftsmanship. I’m very pleased with how the entire set turned out, which in large part is due to our Scenic Charge Artist Abigail Elmore.”

The play was described as “a family drama in three acts” and held true to this description. The play remains in the same setting, the living room of the widow, Mrs. Alving, whose story is slowly revealed on the anniversary of her husband’s death, who was renowned for his contributions to the small town in which they live. In honor of his achievements, the widow and the local reverend have built an orphanage, which will be christened in Mr. Alving’s name the next day.

The pastor unintentionally causes Mrs. Alving to reveal that her late husband was actually a horrible person, and this realization slowly trickles down into the other characters, from her son Oswald and to her maid. “Ghosts” plays like a family drama one would find on TV, but often touches on aspects that are more controversial, including incest, venereal disease and women’s role in society during this time period.

Eventually, things come to a head when the orphanage burns to the ground and Oswald learns the truth about his father, who was a drunken womanizer and illegitimately fathered Regina Engstrand, Mrs. Alving’s maid.

Overall, the actors handled themselves very well, never over-acting. The dialogue was excellently done, and I would find myself secretly urging a couple on through the play. Then my heart would drop out of my chest when it was oh-so-subtly revealed the couple I was secretly supporting was actually incest. This play on my emotions was well done, and I found myself riding the emotional rollercoaster by the beginning of Act II.

My favorite aspect of the play, however, wasn’t necessarily the plot, but the actors themselves. Steven Howie played Reverend Manders, who plays the unfortunate role of having his world crumble around him every few seconds, and his reactions to these revelations felt genuine. He’s been living in a fantasy world without even realizing, despite his best intentions, clinging to the ideals that have been destroying everyone else from the inside, and I applaud Howie for playing the character’s good-heartedness and naiveté extremely well.

Regina, played by Lauren Proctor, was the maid of the household, and while she didn’t play a substantial role, I rather liked those moments when she was encouraged to relax a little yet continued to remain formal and slightly stiff. Jakkob Engstrand, her father, was the one character I wanted to punch in the face repeatedly, for all the right reasons, of course. I enjoyed Alex Maynard’s portrayal of the local scoundrel who played the reverend for a fool the entire play.

However, my favorite aspect of the play was the interaction between Mrs. Alving and Oswald. I could not get enough of these two. Played by Megan DeWald and Josh Webb, respectively, the two were the main focus of the play, and I absolutely loved Webb’s portrayal of a broken man, having tried to explore his “hunger for life” and failed, who inherited what is presumably syphilis, a mind-deteriorating disease. Mrs. Alving’s well-played stiffness dissolves throughout the play, giving us just a little more humanity to work with, bit by bit, just to stab our souls at the very end.

The ending is what sold me. Everything dissolves all at once, and Webb’s and DeWald’s acting was flawless to the very end, right when we heard him say, “Mother, give me the sun.” I cannot give them enough praise for their performance.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the play, specifically the incredible actors who played in it. They turned a potentially boring sitcom into something worth crying over, and that’s a plus in my book.

About Andrew Wadovick

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