Vicki Paris Goodman
There is a wonderful theater group looking to establish an ongoing presence in Long Beach. They are Chrysalis Stage, and judging from their current production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, we should welcome them with open arms.
Ghosts understandably shocked its late-19th century audiences with its treatment of largely unacknowledged human realities such as incest, out-of-wedlock children and venereal disease. What is curious is that the play still raises eyebrows in the 21st century. Maybe that is because all of these circumstances are still seen chiefly as things that happen to other people, not to us.
Ibsen’s well-honed play, a scant hour-and-a-half including intermission, gets right to the point. The highly esteemed Norwegian playwright apparently has no regard for excessive introduction nor extraneous fluff.
The setting, the country home in Norway of Mrs. Alving (Andrea Gwynnel Morgan), seems hospitable enough. There is excitement surrounding the opening of a new orphanage, a project overseen by Mrs. Alving and Pastor Manders (Aaron Morgan), whose hyper-vigilance of the community’s upright morality seems at best idealistic. Attractive housekeeper Regina (Courtney Sutton) is generally optimistic, even cheerful, if somewhat no-nonsense.
Yet an argumentative exchange between Regina and her father Jacob (Frank Stasio) in an opening scene has left us with a feeling of dread. Stasio gives Jacob such a finely balanced blend of subtle lasciviousness and questionable decency that we can’t quite get a handle on his character. We hope for the best.
Mrs. Alving’s handsome son Oswald (ZackaRya Santoro), an artist, has returned home after growing up away from the influence of his desperately unhappy, self-destructive and now deceased father. But Oswald complains of mental deficiencies and pain wholly uncharacteristic of a vital young man. Santoro is mesmerizing as Oswald and makes his character’s obviously immense physical and mental suffering palpable.
As the story unfolds, it turns out nothing is as it seems. But we knew that already. For years Mrs. Alving has kept terrible secrets that, if exposed, had the potential to disrupt everyone’s lives. But when she finds Regina and Oswald on the brink of romantic involvement, she knows she must reveal the truth, in spite of Pastor Manders’ protestations.
A doubly tragic ending seems fitting, given the scandalous state of affairs. Still, we can’t help thinking it is all such a waste of promising lives.
It is tempting to be more specific, but better not to be, lest some readers wisely decide to clear a small window of time these next two weekends to attend a performance of this fine production.
Ghosts, a production of Chrysalis Stage, continues at the Expo Arts Center, 4321 Atlantic Ave., through Sunday, Sept. 22. Ticket costs are: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $12 for students. Remaining performances are Sept. 13, 14, 15, 19, 21, and 22. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 8pm; Sunday performances are at 7pm. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. For more information go to chrysalisstage.com .