Spirit is willing

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Let's give Raconteur Theatre Company credit for taking on what was one of the most controversial dramas of its time, Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts.

In 1881, sexually transmitted diseases were simply not discussed in polite company, let alone displayed on public stages for all to see. Not even if Ibsen employed the disease metaphor partly to expose wider social hypocrisies.

Let's give Raconteur added credit for linking the oft-censored play with the annual Banned Books Week cosponsored by the American Library Association, American Booksellers Association and others.

But let's also painfully admit that Raconteur's production of Ghosts, directed by Tricia T. Jones, falls short. It's like watching an uncomfortable mashup of two related but different plays. Part of the blame resides with renowned playwright Lanford Wilson, whose translation may be a little too loose for its own good.

Carolyn Harding's Helen Alving is respectable, formal in her bearing and speech, just as she should be in this play. But Harding never quite inhabits her words, even in the moments when Helen is making life-changing revelations.

Sarah K. Willis, as the housekeeper Regina Engstrand, is also properly formal for her character's time and social class. As Regina's putative father, Rich Wilson is a salty laborer who pays deference to his social superiors but puts on absolutely no airs otherwise.

On the other hand, the two remaining characters might have walked in off the street from 2008, not 1881. Stephen Woosley portrays Reverend Manders, the now-uptight clergyman who once maintained enough self-control to resist the younger Helen's advances. Woosley, always a reliable comic actor, unfortunately can't muster the requisite gravitas for this part. Brennan Hunter, aided and abetted by Wilson's overly colloquial dialogue, carries nothing of the 19th century about him in word or demeanor as Helen's son Oswald.

So credit's due for the effort of presenting a true classic. In the process of trying to make Ibsen intelligible to a contemporary audience, however, translator Wilson drains the drama of necessary social context. Even flawless performances would have trouble overcoming that defect.


MadLab, Downtown

Through Oct. 25


Jay Weitz is back from a trip to the 2008 Shaw Festival in Canada. Read about his play picks, along with highlights of this year's Stratford Fest, at ColumbusAlive.com