The exorcist


By Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Rex McGraw
The Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Producers' Club
358 W. 44th St. (560-2241)
Equity showcase (closes Feb.12)
Review by Julie Halpern

Ghosts is performed less frequently than Ibsen's better-known plays, but many familiar themes appear here as well. Like An Enemy of the People, the sins of the parents are visited on the children, and similar to A Doll's House, a woman leaves a troubled marriage. The use of syphilis as a metaphor, and a blatant attack on the hypocrisy of upper-class mores, were scandalous in the 1880s, making it difficult to get the play produced.

Mrs. Helene Alving flees a marriage troubled by debauchery and infidelity, but eventually, fearing popular opinion, returns at the urging of Pastor Manders, a close family friend. The "ghosts" of the title are the memories of people Mrs. Alving knew long ago, who continue to make their presence known in unsettling ways. Mrs. Alving, now a young widow and a pillar of the community, and Pastor Manders have built an orphanage in memory of Mrs. Alving's husband, who was also a close friend of Manders. An undercurrent of attraction between Mrs. Alving and Manders is never openly acknowledged by the pastor. The orphanage later goes up in flames, with the Pastor a prime suspect. Mrs. Alving's young housekeeper, Regine, supposedly the daughter of the carpenter Jacob Engstrand, has been treated with great care and educated by the Alving family. Regine is actually the offspring of the late Mr. Alving and their former housekeeper, whom Engstrand married to save the young woman from disgrace, unaware of the true identity of the daughter's father. Oswald, the Alvings' young son, an artist who has been living in Paris, has returned home after contracting syphilis. Unaware of Regine's parentage, he decides to marry her, after violating her in a fashion similar to his father's treatment of Regine's mother a generation before. Young Oswald's sexual behavior, illness and certain death are used as a metaphor for his father's "sins." 

Director Rex McGraw paced Ibsen's rich, complicated play with energy throughout, never letting the actors get bogged down in the text. The ensemble did excellent work, but a number of the actors were obviously too young for their roles, and despite skilled performances, lacked the weight and maturity these roles require. Although her moving portrayal of Helene Alving was quite sympathetic, Linda Hetrick was too young to be believable as the world-weary matron. Jarel Davidow's Pastor Manders convincingly explored the depths of the hypocritical priest's repressed sexuality and anger. Brad Fryman created an extremely likable Jacob Engstrand, but like Hetrick and Davidow, was young for his role. Jay Evans's Oswald Alving was quite touching, moving from playfulness to passion to frightening illness. Kate Ross was an attractive, appealing Regine, the only character to benefit from the play's revelations.

Tamara L. Honesty's beautiful, Arts and Crafts-inspired set, transformed the small confines of the Producer's Club into an inviting living room. Don Guy's lighting enhanced the scenery, but washed out some of the actor's faces, and sometimes left them in darkness, particularly upstage. Ross Manning's luxurious, heavily textured costumes flattered the actors and were appropriate for the period.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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