Sep. 26, 2012 - Issue #884: Strangelove
The Ghost Sonata
Directed by Jessica Carmichael
Timms Centre for the Arts,
$11 – $22
The Ghost Sonata is, to put it bluntly, really weird. Historical context provides some important insight into what is an unquestioningly unusual piece of theatre. The play was written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg in 1907 and is part of the canon of early 20th century modernism: decisively experimental, The Ghost Sonata lacks any sort of traditional structure or literal storyline. Instead, the audience is treated to a visual parade of vivid characters and striking imagery, woven into a dreamlike, at times almost delirious, exploration of scene and mood.
The overarching theme in this production, the opening show for Studio Theatre's 2012-2013 season, is the interplay of reality and illusion, and especially a growing sense of disillusionment that is reflected in the play's visual imagery as well as its increasingly metaphorical dialogue. Again, knowing a bit of context helps immensely in sorting things out: Strindberg wrote the play while dying of cancer and after a string of failed marriages, providing the source of his characters' preoccupation with mortality and the troubling sexual power dynamics.
This is a play that really affords its actors freedom to express themselves corporeally; the use of physical theatre is effective in the characters of the three Dream Figures, as their fluid movements through the background emphasize the ghostly atmosphere. Melissa Thingelstad is particularly commanding in the visually impressive role of The Dark Lady, which is offset nicely by the more familiar yet eccentric movements of Ian Leung as The Old Man; and Marie Nychka is particularly unnerving as the parrot-voiced Mummy. The actors' eerie physical performances are supported by the wonderfully smooth, seamless scene transitions, with both large and small set pieces silently rolling into place seemingly of their own accord.
All this is not to say that The Ghost Sonata is completely inscrutable or inaccessible; while it will certainly leave you with a host of questions and few (if any) answers, the characters' experiences feel somehow familiar. The action doesn't follow a linear or predictable progression, yet each occurrence does seem almost foretold in some strange way; there's a sense of inescapable fate playing out. The Ghost Sonata may be profoundly strange, but it is also thoroughly engrossing and certainly one of the more unique pieces of theatre to come through town in quite some time. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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