Encore Michigan

Young Fenix Theater Company does Strindberg’s ‘Ghost Sonata’

Review December 16, 2017 Tanya Gazdik

DETROIT — It’s hard to believe a play written in 1907 could be so outrageous. But that’s what The Ghost Sonata is, and then some.

First performed in 1908 at Strindberg’s Intimate Theater in Stockholm, named for and founded the year prior by playwright August Strindberg himself, the play was most famously directed by Ingmar Bergman four separate times.

Brian Lawrence, the director of the Detroit rendition, said it was Bergman’s association that most made him want to adapt and direct the play in Detroit. Lawrence is also the author of “If I Can Dream,” a short play that prefaces “The Ghost Sonata.” The play’s quirky material complements the main production extremely well and flows into it quite nicely.

The prelude and first act of the main play run 50 minutes followed by a 10 minute intermission. Scene two totals 30 minutes before a 5 minute intermission and then Scene three runs 15 minutes. The intermissions are necessary for set changes and they actually don’t interrupt the flow of the play. It’s nice to stretch and check out the cool space that houses the theater up above Antietam restaurant on Gratiot Avenue near Eastern Market. The entrance is in the back of the building, as is the parking.

There is no shortage of bizarre characters in the two plays — 17 in the prelude followed by 16 in the main act. Keeping track of who is who can be challenging. Standouts in “Dream” include Kelvin Robinson who plays a hilarious and high-energy Rory McElroy. Jeff Caponigro along with several other actors takes on the task of playing large roles in both plays — the director in “Dream” followed by the lead, Director Hummel, in “Sonata.” Leah Ruff plays the equally delicate characters of Miss Pure in “Dream” and Adele, the girl, in “Ghost.” It’s interesting to see how she skillfully differentiates the two characters. More than just a pretty face, Ruff has excellent comedic timing in “Dream.” Another standout actor is Dan Keary, who plays a security guard in “Dream” followed by the more prominent character of Johansson in “Ghost.”

The chamber play is seen as a seminal work in 20th century modern theater. The theme is man’s struggle to transcend sin. It’s an age-old dilemma that is timely now as it was then. The cast of characters in the Colonel’s house — including the Colonel’s wife (the Mummy) is nothing short of jaw dropping. The play truly engages from beginning to end.

The set, designed and constructed by Rick Lewis, is small but manages to pack a lot of punch.

Young Fenix is an intentional community of artists dedicated to activism, and acceptance. Members are committed to unique works that explore social change and justice. This production certainly does that. It challenges the preconceptions of the “the haves” versus “the have nots.” This is the group’s first play and hopefully the first of many challenging and engaging works.

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