Ghost Sonata -11/19/1999
Creative team: Adaptor/ director John Ficca; Scenic Designer Curtis Trout; Costume Designer Marcia McDonald; Lighting Designer Sean T. Evans; Sound Designer Seth Boekmann; Composer Scott D. Fenstermaker.
Play: ...Strindberg, adapted from the work of August Strindberg with
additional material by John Ficca.
Venue: IWU McPherson Theater.
Dates: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: Adults, $5; seniors, $4; IWU students, $1.
Both the program notes and the director’s prologue tell us that Strindberg’s “Ghost Sonata” has frequently been called “unstageable” or “unproducible.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Perhaps that’s why it became a challenge to director/adaptor John Ficca, to see if he could stage the unstageable.
I feel sure that’s why Ficca added extra sections at the beginning and
end of “Ghost Sonata,” turning it into something he’s called “...Strindberg,” and why there are so many notes attached in the program< -- a chronology of Strindberg’s life, historical background, and director’s notes -- all attempting to define or explain the “mad genius”
and engage us with his work.
As performed by a talented Illinois Wesleyan cast and crew, “...Strindberg” is a moody, atmospheric descent into the stuff of nightmares, preoccupied with languid dreams of spirits, curses and
“...Strindberg” has no plot line here to speak of -- just dialogue that seems portentous but never spells out what it means, shadowy comings and goings, surrealistic, disturbing sound and visual effects, and unhappy characters wandering through a minefield of secrets and illusions.
We see a nasty old man frightened by a milk-maid in a mask, a woman in a closet who thinks she’s a parrot, a cook who can “drain you with her eyes,” a house where there is always plenty of food, but no one is ever
I was reminded of Samuel Beckett’s dark “Endgame” one moment, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” the next, and then the Eagles’ “Hotel California” -- not because of specific references, but because of the discordant mood and emotion, which is, it seems, what “...Strindberg” is going for.
Technically, the show is well-conceived, layered and highly theatrical. Curtis Trout’s scenic design of gauzy curtains and telescoping proscenium frames is intriguing and atmospheric, and Marcia McDonald’s costume design looks great.
Among the cast, standouts include Scott D. Fenstermaker as a credible, open young student, Kevin Michaels’ scrabbling spider of an old man, and Elizabeth Worth McKibbon’s eerily effective old woman, called the Mummy. On the negative side, the framing device -- a prologue and postscript written by Ficca, involving a director trying to do a production of “Ghost Sonata” -- does not come off as well, especially the rather silly witches/wiccan element.
And the pace at time seems a bit too languid, especially when the piece takes a shade under two hours without an intermission.