“Ghosts” by Henrik Ibsen Now Playing at Arts West

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Photo by Michael Brunk

If you like powerful theatre, do yourself a favor and get tickets to this production. The play is a theatre classic, and Arts West’s production is simply extraordinary. Under the direction of Mathew Wright, the company has done everything right with it.

“Ghosts” was first staged in 1881, interestingly in Chicago, by a touring Danish company. It’s the story of a dutiful upper middle class, 19th C. wife, who endured marriage with a narcissistic, philandering, syphilitic husband who, at the time of the play, is dead. Her life has been a misery. She wanted desperately to leave the monster. Ah, but the local minister, locked in the mindset of the time and his religion, consistently reminded her of her wifely duty and the danger of scandal and its effect on her son. So she stayed. We meet them both when that same minister is advising her, about the orphanage she established with her dead husband’s money. When her beloved son returns home, her tragedy intensifies. Here the sin of the father is visited on his offspring.

The play takes place in the round, and Shawn Ketchum Johnson’s period set uses the space beautifully. Alyssa Milone’s lighting design is carefully conceived to heighten emotion. Together they amplify the actions that Ibsen placed on stage as he explored the dark side of the middle class. Not interested in kings or queens, he dove into the religion, morality, ideology, struggles, and pretenses of that vast segment of post-industrial society—the upper middle class. He asks his audiences to review their own lives, to take note of how they are trapped by convention.

So it’s powerful stuff we have on this stage, and it demands powerful acting. We get it, especially in the role of Helene, the trapped wife, as played by the sublime Suzanne Bouchard. Her Helene is breathtaking. Elegant and gracious, she’s a tormented soul. She’s a gentle and adoring mother when her son returns home after a long absence. She’s crazed when catastrophe disrupts her dreams. Here’s an actor who is the master of nuance and emotion.

John Coons as the needy son forces us to empathize completely with him. You’ll be strongly affected by his later scenes! Noah Racey epitomizes the know-it-all minister who seems more driven by moralistic interpretation than human kindness or insight. Sophia Franzella makes a most efficient and unobtrusive servant, and Paul Shapiro rounds out the cast and hides his secret very well.

This is a remarkably good production of a truly superb play. Put it on your calendar.

Through Oct. 23 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or artswest.org).

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