“Ghosts” ghosts by Ibsen at Boho theatre

by Hnerik Ibsen

(thru July 18th)

Review by Alan Bresloff

Henrik Ibsen shocked the theatrical world with his “Ghosts”. In the era in which he wrote it, 1881, as the story dealt with incest, promiscuity and disease transmitted by sex- this was truly unacceptable at the time. Over the years, after the uproar died down, it was more acceptable, but not because people accepted those things, but rather because they saw the underlying message. BoHo Theatre, one of our intimate storefront theaters in Rogers Park, has launched a new translation by Lanford Wilson that is currently running in the tiny black box theater on Glenwood.

ghosts by ibsen at boho theatre

This 95 minute production (no intermission) directed by P.Marston Sullivan, condenses the play down to a time that is easily sustainable for most audiences with a cast of six actors. BoHo is known for its quality sets in making the space appear much larger than it really is and Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky have done a tremendous job in making a 25 foot by 16 foot area drawing room of a large estate seem real. The cast is led by Saren Nofs-Snyder as the matriarch of the Alving home, Mrs. Helen Alving. Ms. Nofs-Snyder is powerful as this woman who has endured many trials in her life due to the man she married, who to most was a saint, but to her, the devil. Her son is played by Charles Riffenburg, who makes the character just a little stronger than Ibsen meant him to be. He has been away almost all of his years, living abroad as an artist. He has returned home for reasons that come out- reasons that are not what his mother thought would bring him home.

ghosts by ibsen at boho theatre
The maid, Regina (the lovely Florence Ann Romano) has been raised by Mrs. Alving, but has acted as her servant and to her son Oswald, a possible lover. Her father, the town drunk, who works at the orphanage run by Mrs. Alving ,has his own ideas for his daughter. Sean Thomas portrays Jakkob with an agenda of his own and a sort of accnt that takes away from some of his dialog. The final character in this production is the Reverend Manders played by Steve O’Connell. I was impressed with his character, but had some trouble hearing him. Often, actors feel that in a small theater, they can speak as if in conversation, but when one has lines that are pertinent to the telling of the story, it is important to project to the last row ( in this case, about 20 feet from the stage).
The story is fairly complicated- Mr. Engstrand is not the father of Regina, who is in fact the product of an affair her mother had with Mr. Alving. Mr. Alving also had some sexually related disease that was passed on to his son. Mrs. Alving never loved her husband, but married him for the wealth and security he could offer. In fact, it appears the good reverend was the man she desired. The “Ghosts” are not really ghosts, but the term is used to speak to the past, the errors in judgment in their lives- the truths that exist, but have been hidden or kept secret. When a fire breaks out that will destroy the orphanage, and the reason they all cling to the Alving Estate for takes place, we learn more about their real feelings and what each truly wants to do. It is a sad ending for most, but not all.
One of the most difficult parts of doing a new translation to a play that is considered a classic is watching the language that is used. The play has not been modernized by Wilson, so the use of references like “dad” and “mom” and “boondocks” are to me unacceptable. They do not fit. Father or Mother would work or even Papa or Mama and “boondocks” could have been wilderness or hinterland- surely they would have not caused the audience to stop and think about these words not fitting. BoHo does quality work and while this production is not up their usual standards, they have taken on a major challenge and should be applauded for the valiant effort they put forth. This is a soul searching piece that will bring forth some emotion. How should one react to finding out that the women you love, your servant is in reality your half sister? How does a man, who knows that his daughter is not his work where she works and be hated by her react to her being part of his employer’s family? These are just some of the questions faced in this production and they all evolve beautifully. The flaws are few, the total production certainly worth the trip to Rogers Park.

Date Reviewed: June 18, 2010
“Ghosts” will continue through July 18th at The BoHo Theatre located at 7016 N. Glenwood with performances as follows:
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m. except for the 18th when it will be at 1 p.m.

Tickets are a mere $17-$20, just a bit more than a movie for Live Theater- well worth it!
Call 1-866-811-4111 to reserve your space in this very small theater (I think there are less than 50 seats.)