Tag: August STrindberg
Oracle’s ‘Ghost Sonata’ doesn’t sing
|Oracle Theatre presents|
|The Ghost Sonata|
|by August Strindberg
directed by Max Truax
at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through June 19th | tickets: $10-$20 | more info
by Barry Eitel
August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata is a tough play to crack open. Written over a century ago, the masterpiece is considered a wonder of Modernist drama. Therefore, it has plenty of bizarre twists and characterizations (vampires and ghosts, anyone?). Especially now, when we’re used to straightforward stories force-fed through movies and television, the piece is hard to navigate. Oracle Theatre and director Max Truax certainly take up this challenge with their heavily-expressionistic version. Even though they engage Strindberg with honesty and compassion, the end product leaves us bewildered and groping for answers.
You may want to read a translation of the play before setting out for this production. Truax and his driven cast seem very concerned with conveying mood and themes, but to the detriment of plot and clarity. I had the feeling that everyone onstage knew what was going on but I wasn’t completely welcome. It was like looking through a very dusty window. After a few scenes, it is possible to piece together the general story, but this production doesn’t help much in terms of leading the audience through Strindberg’s dense text.
Truax and his design team create a bizarrely fascinating world, conquering the sometimes awkward Oracle space. There were some amazing stage pictures formed by Truax (doubling as set designer), who whipped up some awesome forced perspective. Although the video projections sometimes confuse the storyline, Michael Janicki’s work fits the twisted world well, with vaguely Victorian black-and-white images appearing in a frame above the action.
The audience enters to Rich Logan looking all comatose in a wheelchair. As the elderly Jacob Hummel, he pushes and manipulates the play forward, imparting plenty of creepiness to the already dark script. Strindberg’s text revolves around a Student (Federico Rodriguez), who meets a cast of wacky characters, including the scheming Hummel, a mummy (Ann Sonneville), a ghostly maid (Lily Emerson), and a dead guy (John Arthur Lewis). Again, even though each of the actors understands and brings life to their characters, the gothic world is not very well explained. Rodriguez carries the show, although sometimes he doesn’t recognize the close relationship he has to the audience. Stephanie Polt fits well into the oppressive world as the object of the Student’s affection, but Sean Ewert as her father, the Colonel, doesn’t match the others. Justin Warren can also fall out of the production’s universe, but he brings some much needed comic relief.
While the performances usually deeply connect to the text, they don’t fit into the space. Truax and his actors seem unaware of how to utilize Oracle’s intimate stage. When emotions run high, the actors often resort to screaming. The audience gets irritated and interest flags. In such an enclosed and small theatre, overplaying can be disastrous. This Ghost Sonata isn’t ruined by yelling, but some over-the-top moments knock down the impact of the play.
Besides clarity, the biggest issue afflicting Truax’s production is a lack of humor. Yes, this is a dark, turn-of-the-century, proto-Expressionistic script, but there has to be some releases—Strindberg, being a master dramatist, pens them in. Avoiding the humor can make the play feel highly melodramatic and uninteresting. There are some nuggets of humor, but most of it is swept away to make way for dreariness.
Truax’s production is very conceptual and looks pretty cool, but fails to respect Strindberg’s text. The focus is too much on theme and not enough on story. The talent is obviously there; with a few exceptions, it seemed like the whole cast was on-board and clicking with each other. The design makes some very innovative choices that you might not expect from a storefront. Oracle’s Achilles’ Heal here is storytelling; Truax finds great skin but uses a weak skeleton.
Thursday, May 20
The Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway, Chicago
Join Oracle for wine and appetizers before the show and a post-show discussion on the direction of Oracle’s 2010-2011 season. Max Truax follows up his Oracle directorial debut – 2008’s stunning conceptual Termen Vox Machina – with an elegant, haunting interpretation of Strindberg’s classic chamber play. This mesmerizing and complex narrative portrays a world where two families are imprisoned in their legacy of greed, duplicity and manipulation. Truax’s vision highlights the play’s depiction of the destructive force of truth. There are things in life much more frightening than death.
Event begins at 6:30 p.m. Show begins at 8 p.m.
TICKETS ONLY $25 – For reservations visit http://oracletheatre.org/Tickets.htm
TimeOut Chicago‘s Christopher Platt and Kris Vire present their top 10 Chicago theater picks of 2008:
|1.||Caroline or Change (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
|2.||Our Town (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
|3.||Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)
by Stephen Karam
Standouts: PJ Paparelli (ATC Artistic Director); performances: Patrick Andrews, Jared McGuire, Sadieh Rifai
|4.||Uncle Vanya (TUTA TheatreChicago)
by Anton Chekhov
Standouts: Zeljko Djukic (director), Yasen Peyankov and Peter Christensen (translators), Martin Andrew (designer)
|5.||Miss Julie (The Hypocrites)
by August Strindberg
Standouts: Sean Graney (director); performances: Stacy Stoltz, Greg Hardigan
|6.||Titus Andronicus (Court Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), ; performances: Timothy Edward Kane, Hollis Resnik
|7.||Fake Lake (The Neo-Futurists)
by Sharon Greene
Standouts: Halena Kays (director), Welles Park pool, Mikhail Fiksel
|8.||Breathing Corpses (Steep Theatre)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Robin Witt (director), Marcus Stephen (set designer)
|9.||Million Dollar Quartet (Goodman, Apollo Theater)
Standouts: Levi Kreis (as Jerry Lee Lewis), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Rob Lyon (Carl Perkins), Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley)
|10.||As Told by the Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)
by Devin de Mayo
Standouts: Devin de Mayo (director)
To see the TimeOut Chicago description of each of these shows, click here.