Review: Ghosts (Redtwist Theatre)

| November 16, 2018

Devon Nimerfroh (Oswald Alving), James Sparling (Pastor Manders) and Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving) star in Ghosts    




Adapted & Directed by Erin Murray
   from play by Henrik Ibsen
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru Dec 10  |  tix: $35-$40  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Classic tale gone anticlimactic


Devon Nimerfroh (Oswald Alving), James Sparling (Pastor Manders) and Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving) star in Ghosts

Redtwist Theatre presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts has been controversial from day one. The play was first staged in Chicago in 1882, thanks to a Danish company on tour, and drew criticism and shock for many decades after. In many ways, the play is classic Ibsen: a scathing take on the hypocrisy of 19th century morality. But Ghosts sets itself apart from, say, An Enemy of the People, for its subject matter, which includes religion, euthanasia, incest and sexually transmitted infections. Erin Murray, who also directs Redtwist Theatre’s production, has adapted the play into a one-act takedown of white feminism while keeping the play in its original time period. This both works, and doesn’t.

Devon Nimerfroh (Oswald Alving) and Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving) star in Ghosts at Redtwist TheatreGhosts’ protagonist is widow Helen Alving (company member Jacqueline Grandt), whose long marriage was perfect on the surface but a nightmare behind closed doors. However, all is well at the start of the play: Helen is about to open an orphanage with her late husband’s wealth, her beloved adult son Oswald (Devon Nimerfroh) is home for an extended stay and her young maid Regina (Sophie Hoyt) is flourishing, learning to speak French in her spare time. But after Helen confides in her old friend Pastor Manders (James Sparling) about a shocking incident that happened when Oswald was very young, all hell breaks loose in every part of her life.

In Murray’s white feminism-centered adaptation, two characters are of color: Regina and her stepfather Jacob (Lionel Gentle), who wants to open a hostel for seafarers and tries to persuade Regina to leave her post and help. With this casting, Helen’s discouragement of Oswald’s attraction to Regina takes on a whole new meaning, and a searing speech by Regina at the end of the play is made that much more powerful. Murray has sprinkled modern references throughout (Pastor Manders telling Helen to smile, et cetera) that are reminiscent of Robert Falls’ adaptation of An Enemy of the People at Goodman last spring.

Lionel Gentle (Jacob Engstrand) and Sophie Hoyt (Regina Engstrand) star in Ghosts, Redtwist TheatreDevon Nimerfroh (Oswald Alving) and Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving) star in Ghosts, Redtwist Theatre

However, Murray seems to be so fixated on the white-feminism platform, the play never truly takes off. Ghosts’ brilliance lies in its secrets: how once one is spilled, there’s a domino effect of bombs dropped, each more devastating than the last. (Spoiler hint: there’s definitely more than one ghost in the Alving home.) However, the revelations in Redtwist’s production are light taps on the shoulder, rather than punches in the gut. All shock in Ibsen’s script – which could still be devastating to today’s audience, as the play has aged well – is nearly drained out of the adaptation, thanks to lackluster direction as well as Adrienne Miikelle’s way too literal lighting design, which leaves the space in near-darkness for much of the play.

Despite its major flaws, this Ghosts boasts a few strong performances. Though Nimerfroh’s Oswald is a bit too stereotypically “young man experiencing downfall” to be convincing, Sparling’s Pastor Manders is authoritative in his hypocrisy and has the commanding presence of a man used to being in charge. Grandt’s Alving is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton, a woman who’s endured a lot over the years, only to abandon her lofty morals when they hit a bit too close to him. Hoyt’s Regina is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast: from her preshow entrance, fussing with a tablecloth in the Alving family home, she radiates star power. As Regina is revealed to be the ultimate victim, Hoyt retains the character’s intelligent dignity and grace, which only makes her personal tragedy even more devastating. If Murray’s direction and adaptation had been as compelling and empathetic as Hoyt’s performance, Ghosts would have been a standout production indeed. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Rating: ★★½

Ghosts continues through December 10th at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $35-$40 (seniors & students $5 off), and are available by phone (773-728-7529) or through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 100 minutes without intermission)

Sophie Hoyt (Regina Engstrand) and Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving) star in Ghosts, Redtwist Theatre

Photos by Gracie Meier




Lionel Gentle (Jacob Engstrand), Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving), Sophie Hoyt (Regina Engstrand), Devon Nimerfroh (Oswald Alving), James Sparling (Pastor Manders)

Understudies: Kylie Anderson (Regina Engstrand), Darryn Glass (Jacob Engstrand), James Hesla (Pastor Manders), Ryan Liddell (Oswald Alving), Jeanne Scurek (Helen Alving)

behind the scenes

Erin Murray (director, adaptation), Max Colvill (assistant director), Elaena Hoekstra (stage manager), Sunniva Holmlund (assistant stage manager), Kaitlin Taylor (production manager), Julia Skeggs (casting director), Daniel Fiddler (technical director), Lauren Nichols (scenic design), Adrienne Miikelle (lighting design), Eric Backus, Stefanie M. Senior (co-sound designers), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Christian Kurka (props design), Ryan Liddell (fight choreography), Natalie Santoro (scenic charge), Kate Swenson, Jerrell L. Henderson (dramaturgs), Gracie Meier (photos)

Jacqueline Grandt (Helen Alving) and James Sparling (Pastor Manders) star in Ghosts, Redtwist Theatre


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Adaptation, Henrik Ibsen, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, Redtwist Theatre, World Premier

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