by Dick Kerekes
The Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened the new decade with Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. It will be on stage through January 30 at 716 Ocean Blvd in Atlantic Beach. Call 249-7177 for reservations and visit their website at www.abettheatre.com.
Ghosts is from the pen of the man who is considered the Father of Modern Drama. Henrik Ibsen who is probably best known to North Florida audiences from his two most famous plays, A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. Ghosts was written in l881 but no European theatres would touch it because it was too sensational. It finally debuted in l882 in Chicago in Norse language. In the late l880s, the Free Theatre movement in Paris, Berlin and London discovered it and it became a play that must be seen by forward-looking audiences. Ibsen’s plays brought to the theatre a new and higher standard of intelligence, with richer and deeper thought content than his predecessors.
Ghosts originally ran about 3 ½ hours. In 2000, playwright Lanford Wilson trimmed the script down to 90 minutes and made the text more speakable without losing the power and punch of Ibsen’s characters.
The entire action takes place in the drawing room of Widow Helen Alving’s home in Western Norway in l881. Set Designer Misty Livingston has simplicity yet an air of elegance in her design of rich polished wood with appropriate paintings on the wall. A book case and a large period couch are the only furniture.
The story shows how the family itself, the nucleus of society, might imprison the spirits of both husband and wife and might exact the most terrible penalties from the children. Deborah Jordan is Mrs. Alving who had a loveless marriage to a less than desirable husband, but stuck with it at the urging of her Pastor some 20 years ago.The title Ghosts refers to the past incidents in her life and the lives of those around her.
Pastor Manders (Rick Sheffler, ) is her financial advisor now but years ago was attracted to her. He acts as the voice of society, the mind that settles all questions by rule. Helen’s son, Oswald (Erik DeCicco) has returned home after living as an artist in Paris for many years. He has problems, which I will let you discover when you see the play. Living with Helen as a maid is Regina (Lesley Nadwodnik), the grown daughter of her former housekeeper, and Helen’s handyman- carpenter, Jakkob (Scott Peeler).
This play deals with subjects that had never been addressed on stage before, venereal disease, infidelity, incest, and domestic partnerships.
Deborah Jordan is a Professor of Theater at Jacksonville University and her last time on stage as an actress was in her own original play The Calling two years ago at ABET. I recall seeing her in several comic roles at Players by the Sea. Ms. Jordan gives a strong performance of a woman who has lived a hard life with difficult choices and now faces even more tragedy in her life.
Lesley Nadwodnik is excellent as Regina. I last saw this JU student in the very demanding role of the mother in All of My Sons at Jacksonville University.
I last saw Scott Peeler as a bad guy in Theater Jacksonville’s Wait Until Dark. When I saw his name in the program I thought he might be too young for the role of the middle aged carpenter and father to Regina. Peeler was very convincing as Jakkob Engstrand, a somewhat seedy character. Peeler contorts his body to create a physical impairment that is very believable.
Rick Sheffler has done several roles at Orange Park Community Theatre, so if you are a patron of that group, come on down to ABET to see Rick in a very different and probably the best role I have seen him do. He puts a lot of life into what could have been a very static role were it not for his excellent vocal variety and gestures.
Erik DeCicco is making his community theatre directing debut, and judging from the results I saw on stage, he will be directing many more. He is playing the important role of Oswald the son, not through choice but as sometimes happens, people drop out of plays and substitutions must be made. In this case, DeCicco would have been my initial choice, he is perfect for the role, and his scene with his mother at the end of Act II is one of the dramatic highlights of the year in local theatre.
We don’t see many classics done anymore, not in Jacksonville anyway. They are usually very long in length and costly to produce. This Lanford Wilson’s translation keeps all the nuances of Ibsen’s original script to produce a very interesting evening of theatre. I was pleased to see such a good sized crowd on the 2nd night of this show. It is good to know Jacksonville has people who will support the classics. I also appreciated Bryan Frank’s evocative lighting and Allison Steadman’s picture perfect costumes of this period. Mrs. Alving’s dress is outstanding.
Don’t miss this show, if you appreciate good scripts and fine acting.
by Dick Kerekes