Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ghosts at BAM

“There’s no one to say I can’t resist temptation,” “he needs help, someone he can love and trust,” “a daughter’s duty is to her father,” “we don’t have a right to expect happiness,” “this has been a university of suffering for me,“ “you have no idea what this has cost me,” “who am I to judge you or to forgive you,” “I brought you into the world,” “I didn’t ask you for life.” These are all lines from Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Ibsen's Ghosts currently playing at BAM. The words are searingly delivered by Ibsen’s widow Helene Alving (Lesley Manville), her sickly son Oswald (Billy Howle), her servant Regina (Charlene McKenna), her pastor, (Will Keen) and her servant’s father Jacob Engstrand (Brain McCardle). Eyre who also directed gives them the haunting quality of a Greek chorus, reminding the audience of the inevitability and inescapability of fate. Tim Hatley’s design which uses a scrim to layer the action makes it possible to the see the ghosts, the apparitions of the past, in the present. Oswald, as we know, is suffering from syphilis, but penicillin is not the cure and neither is freedom from nineteenth century repression and loveless self-sacrifice. If we remember Oedipus did everything in the book to avoid his fate. If he had been less willful he never would have murdered his mother and married his father. Terminal illness of either a physical or spiritual nature is terrifying and there's a tendency to move from shock to blame. Hindsight is never 20/20 when it comes to mortality or the blank indifference of the universe and that's ultimately the tragedy Ibsen’s characters succumb to in the play’s current iteration at BAM. Eyre’s production doesn’t make you think; there’s no room. It's neither a good or bad thing. This Ghosts is simply too dark and true, but one almost wanted The Wooster Group, whose signature style lies in freeing language from narrative, to intervene. “The Sun, the Sun” are the famous last lines. Kierkegaard talks about the esthetic, ethical and religious stages and one wonders if the current production, however masterfully conceived, might have benefited from more artificial light.

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