A scene from Extant Arts' Ghosts, playing at the Access Theatre.
BOTTOM LINE: Extant Arts Company presents an abstract, experimental, multimedia adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts on a set of nylon thread.
Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts tells the story of a mother (Mrs. Alving), the girl she raised (Regina), her son (Oswald), and their pastor on a night when a lifetime of secrets are revealed and worlds unravel.
In this new production helmed by Sophie Hunter and adapted by Nemonie Craven, the set becomes the main character.
Walking into the downtown theatre space, the set is a vast presence. Thin nylon threads hang from the ceiling and form a box — a room. At the back of the room are plants attached to IV drips forming a line. Behind them is plastic sheeting where images and video are projected. The stage has only two chairs and three television monitors, but a canopy of light bulbs hang from the ceiling. The entire space becomes an exercise in transparency and illumination, thickly stylized.
With this set, it becomes no surprise that the lighting is also complex and deeply shadowed, which makes it all the more disappointing when in certain scenes only the bulbs are used. Still, when the lighting is designed and the theatrical units are utilized, the effect is as intricate and textural as the space itself.
Unfortunately, this visual brilliance hinders the action and staging more than it complements it. For most of the play, the audience is looking through the nylon front “wall” of the string room. And in general this artistic installation-style setting often makes more of a statement than the actors' words and actions do.
Also, the Access Theatre doesn't have an elevated stage, yet two of the three monitors are on the floor, and several important scenes take place sitting on the floor. In a space like this, moments are blocked from sight by the rows of audience before them. I sometimes couldn’t see what was being shown on the television monitors, or what characters were doing down on the ground.
And it’s a shame to not be able to see, because several performances are well worth watching. LeeAnne Hutchison plays Mrs. Alving with great nuance and clarity. The final scene between Mrs. Alving, Regina (Justine Salata), and Oswald (Paulo Quiros) is a gripping success of staging and performance, a true testament to the potential in the ambitious artistry behind this piece.
Ghosts is an enterprising, experimental presentation of Ibsen's classic. If you like abstraction, expressionistic theatre, or are familiar with the play and interested to see a new spin on the script, take a trip down to the Access Theatre.
(Ghosts plays through November 21, 2010 at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, 4th Floor. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at PM. The performance on Sunday, November 21st will be at 3PM. Tickets are $18 or $15 for students, and TDF vouchers are accepted. For reservations, call 212-868-4444 or visit smarttix.com.)