After more than 100 years, few remember that Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts received its first production, not in his native Scandinavia, but in the United States. In the 1880s, the subjects of infidelity, incest, syphilis, and euthanasia were taboo subjects. And after all this time, the play is still as fraught as it was scandalous when it opened.
Working from an “adaptation” by British director, Richard Eyre, Bart DeLorenzo has crafted a gripping, fast-moving, tale that takes us asymmetrically from revelations of the past to an explosive present (albeit set in the late 19th century) in a little over an hour and a half. As the play unfolds, one cannot help admiring the tightly constructed plot Ibsen created that sets the past on a collision course with the single moment when the sum of the Alving family’s actions explode.
Helene Alving (Pamela J. Gray) is recently widowed. To commemorate her late husband, she is planning to open an orphanage in his name. Her son, Oswald (Alex Barlas), has come home for the occasion but also to recuperate from a lingering illness. He soon discovers the charms of Mrs. Alving’s maid, Regina (Viva Hassis Gentes), who has grown up in the house as one of the family. Her father, Jacob (J. Stephen Brantley) keeps an eye on her from afar while he works on the orphanage, while the officious Reverend Manders (Barry Del Sherman) oversees its development. The Reverend not only represents the repressive society surrounding the Alving family, but he serves as a foil to bring out the revelations of the unspeakable behavior of the late Mr. Alving that sets everyone’s fate in motion.
Although surrounded by period furniture (thanks to set designer, Frederica Nascimento), with characters dressed in period-appropriate costuming (by Lena Sands) and with all the action sandwiched on the Odyssey’s stage space, disturbingly modern touches literally loom over the proceedings in the form of a boxy sculpture hanging over the stage. Strangely, the night I attended, this form was not lighted (as in the accompanying photo), and therefore, seemed even more unclear. A metaphor….for what? To add to a sense of imbalance, Oswald’s jug-head, Iraq war-era haircut jars us from the distancing effect of Ibsen’s century-old tale. Perhaps we are to understand his disease in a more immediate context, such as the deleterious result of burn pits. Nevertheless, DeLorenzo’s breathless pacing keeps focus squarely on the series of catastrophes that bring down the late Alving’s legacy. It makes Ibsen’s deeper message that some call “the sins of the father visited on the son” even more expansive.
The Odyssey Theatre presents Ghosts playing Saturdays and Mondays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm until October 23, 2022, with added Friday performances on October 7th, 14th, and 21st at The Odyssey Complex, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles 20015. Tickets, $25-40.00. For reservations phone (310) 477-2055, ext. 2, or at www.odysseytheatre.com.