Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: APRIL 16, 2010
You’ve gotta love a play the critics called “revoltingly suggestive,” “morbid and disgusting.” “Foul,” “filthy” and “blasphemous.” In 1882, it just about blew the lid off Norwegian society. Playwright Henrik Ibsen, ever the social commentator, was once again, as he did in “A Doll’s House,” exposing the ludicrous hypocrisies of his day. And we know that no one likes when artists do that. But with “Ghosts,” he was more virulent and scathing than before. Even today, his subject matter feels surprisingly fresh and provocative: sexually transmitted disease; mercy killing; marital infidelity; the role of women in the family; false piety in the clergy.
Though Ibsen’s contemporaries were appalled, modern audiences might find a few of the play’s fusty perspectives dated. But North Coast Repertory Theatre commissioned a crisp new translation by SDSU professor emeritus Anne-Charlotte Harvey. Still, some in the opening night audience felt compelled to laugh at the self-righteous, misogynistic comments of a corrupt and deceitful Pastor, though his type remains painfully recognizable today. We can barely fathom the sense of lockstep loyalty and duty that drives a wife to cover up the lifelong promiscuity of her husband, but women still seem to do that with surprising regularity. Repression runs rampant in this drama, but it only appears to have an effect on the distaff side. Men are free to philander, wheedle, dissemble, conceal and control.
Mrs. Alving seems to be an average, upper middle-class widow. But she’s developed some forward-thinking ideas. Years ago, she tried to run away from her miserable marriage, but was forced back by the sanctimonious Pastor Manders . Steeling herself, she took over the running of the family estate. And in her misguided dedication to duty, covering for her repugnant husband, she was determined to keep him from their child. So she sent her beloved boy away at an early age. And yet, the sins of the father are visited on the son. With a vengeance. Now, 27-year old Osvald is home, a frustrated artist returning from Paris , deathly ill. He comes back into the smothering arms of his guilt-ridden mother. Scene by methodical scene, the layers of denial, deception and suppressed emotion are peeled away.
North Coast Rep artistic director David Ellenstein has marshaled an outstanding ensemble, each carving out a forceful, dimensional character. But the play ultimately belongs to the agonized mother and son. Rosina Reynolds and Richard Baird are superb, revealing all the colors and shades of a lifetime of unhappiness and disappointment that will culminate in a tragic end. Their final, gut-wrenching scene may just break your heart.
Duty over desire. Honesty versus hypocrisy. Ibsen’s themes are timeless. In many ways, women haven’t come so far, and men haven’t changed their tune.
“Ghosts” runs through May 2, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
©2010 PAT LAUNER