by Henrik Ibsen
Translated by Rick Davis & Brian Johnston
Directed by Gil Lazier
Banyan Theater Company
Cook Theatre at FSU Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-552-1032
June 24 to July 11, 2010

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Banyan Theater's mission is "to stage exceptional productions of fine dramatic literature in the summer." Henrik Ibsen's aim in writing Ghosts was for "the reader to feel that, as he reads, he is sharing in an actual experience." Under the informed direction of Gil Lazier, both the company and the author's aims merge in a production that brings us back to a late 19th century world where women were repressed and families dominated by religious leaders and, especially, the past. Though Ibsen's naturalism shocked and dismayed producers and then audiences of his time, today's may interpret his subjects and theme, along with current production values, as melodramatic. But when the drama is so intense, as it comes over at Banyan, we are swept emotionally and unquestioning into it.
It helps immensely that the bluish-gray formality of the Alving living room (meticulously rendered by Jeffrey W. Dean) unites the observer and the participant in us. To his home in Norway's rainiest area (its dark reflected inside via Michael Pasquini's lighting) has come Osvald Alving. A 26 year old, he's been living among fellow artists in Paris. Is he back to help celebrate the dedication to his father of a childen's home that his mother's had built with profits from the family business and advice of their minister? Actually, Osvald seeks solace and someone to see him through a deadly illness. (In Ibsen's day and play, syphilis was a disease whose name remained unspoken.  Considered unfit for public acknowledgment, its presence here fueled the play's reception as scandalous.)Where else but in the home of a doting mother and the serving girl she has taken in can Osvald ease his pain?
Unfortunately, this place is also the abode of Ghosts-people and acts of the past whose "haunting" bodes ill for the future.
Although Osvald is the son who has "inherited the sins of the father," his mother is ultimately the most haunted of Ibsen's characters and his play's true protagonist. (In Jessica K. Peterson's countenance may be seen the emotions of a wronged wife, a rejected would-be love, a socially responsible lady, a seeker of psychological and inductive knowledge, a loving mother.) As she "takes power" to set everyone and everything aright, freeing all from past constraints and evils, Mrs. Helene Alving proves the only unselfish person. As her exact opposite, Peter Thomasson's slickly sanctimonious Pastor Manders considers himself an instrument of Divine Providence. Of course, it favors the authority of men and makes him a great business adviser as well as guardian of traditional morals. Though he has an eye for attractive women, it can't compete with his self absorption. In his relationships with others, his main concern is his reputation.
As Jakob Engstrand, who's good only at drinking, hating "aristocrats" and fooling the pastor, Steven Clark Pachosa (rough and raunchy) keeps trying to wheedle others into profiting him. Hoping to start a Seamen's Home, he wants his daughter Regina to "work" there. After all, she may get a husband out of it. Or something just as good. But Gretchen Porro's astute, ambitious Regina, flirty with her "betters" though bossy toward Jakob, is setting her cap on Osvald. While Pastor Manders would have Regina do her duty and help her father, Mrs. Alving has other ideas of where she can be of most use. Can it be that she'll learn a secret about Regina more scandalous than she'd have thought possible?  How will the minister and Osvald deal with the truth? What happens to the planned Memorial? How do Ghosts finally affect mother and son? 
Ibsen's "fine dramatic literature" retains suspense even as we now perceive his naturalism as quite tame.  Bringing his dark Ghosts into Sarasota's summer nights to illuminate historical ideas, give haunting characterizations, Banyan's mission is again accomplished. Its ninth season has auspiciously begun.
Time: 2 hrs., 30 mins. including 15 min. intermission. Production State Manager: Jon Merlyn. Sound Designer: Steve Lemke. Technical Director: Shane Streight. Dialogue Coach: Mark Woodland.

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