The moody, methodical landscape of Henrik Ibsen’s controversial and engrossing 1881 drama “Ghosts,” a blistering commentary on Victorian morality, strikingly resonates in a well-acted and attractively designed production at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Set in late 19th century Norway, the aptly titled “Ghosts,” originally banned for religious purposes, meticulously uncovers the substantial loathing and pain permeating within an emotionally scarred family splintered by history and lies. Throughout three acts, compelling matters of adultery, authority, lunacy, marriage, money, parenting, principles and status are expertly intertwined, arising with contemporary relevance without feeling stodgy under the delicate, introspective direction of Matthew Smith.
The firm, formidable Lisa Howard-Welch wonderfully captures the antipathy and heartbreak within Mrs. Helene Alving, who remains appalled by the reprehensible behavior of her philandering late husband Captain Alving. Embracing Ibsen’s thought-provoking language to scintillating effect, Howard-Welch initially captivates when Helene, torn between duty and truth, reveals the cruel depths of her marital woes to the startlingly out of touch Pastor Manders (a marvelously bewildered, gently commanding Chuck Larkowski). All the same, her deeply emotional scenes opposite the terrifically passionate Jared Mola as Helene’s sickly son Osvald are equally potent, especially as Osvald erupts into fits of rage and succumbs to his illness which Helene can hardly bear. In fact, Howard-Welch and Mola’s palpable connection contains Oedipal overtones that speak volumes about the problematic bond their characters have created to masquerade reality.
Additionally, Angela Timpone offers a tenderly understated portrayal of Regine Engstrand, Helene’s dutiful, buxom maid who catches the attention of Osvald and, to a lesser, humorous degree, Pastor Manders. Regine, an innocent victim of circumstance typifying how past mistakes destroy the future, desires Osvald but cannot truly win his heart due to Captain Alving’s secret sin from long ago. Dave Nickel is appropriately earthy and vociferous as Jakob Engstrand, Regine’s overbearing father.
Josh Hollister’s lovely, multi-level set, complete with multiple chandeliers and particularly slanted windows astutely suggesting the household’s lopsided nature, is evocatively lit by John Falkenbach. Robin Farinet and Carol Finley supply fine, authentically detailed costumes. Michael Boyd’s effective sound design is also a plus.
According to Pastor Manders, “A wife cannot sit in judgment of her husband.” If that line made you cringe or laugh, take time to immerse yourself in Helene’s complex world of Victorian womanhood. You’ll be grateful society has come a long way in 132 years.
“Ghosts” continues through Jan. 27 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 40 minutes; Act Three: 25 minutes. There are two intermissions. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit http://daytontheatreguild.org