A haunted start to DalTheatre's season
August Strindberg's Ghost Sonata
Alyssa Fourneaux - October 18, 2013
DalTheatre's 2013-14 season begins this week with August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata, a 19th-century Swedish play about a dysfunctional family and a young student’s journey to find prosperity and fulfill his dead father’s debt.
The expressionist play, rarely performed in North America, is an incredibly dark and cynical look at human interactions and family life. It focuses on a young student (played by Scott Baker), who meets an old man (Chris O’Neill and Taylor Olson) in the streets. They discuss the family that resides in a nearby mansion, with the young student dreaming up the family who lives there. As the play progresses, the audience learns the reputable family has many secrets, haunted by darkness and plagued by mental illness.
The actors are immediate, engaged and interact with the set. The simple stage design, using only found objects, allows every piece to be used as a musical instrument, explains set designer Ellen Gibling.
“The set is literally being played,” adds director Jure Gantar. Sound is an important component in the play (which is inspired by Beethoven's music) and is used as a symbol of the characters’ restless and haunted minds.
An intimate theatregoing experience
The small, dark studio space allows for an intimate relationship between the actors and audience as well. The performance takes place against one wall. “Depending on where you sit, you could get landscape and close up shots of the actor, like in a movie,” says Prof. Gantar.
Early in pre-production, the team decided to show how the characters mental health issues' are ones that would be diagnosed with modern day medical knowledge. “It makes it comprehensible for the audience if the characters are rooted in reality,” says Prof. Gantar. He explains the interpretation of the show also acknowledges Strindberg’s own apparent battle with mental illness.
Performances of Ghost Sonata alternate two casts to allow the theatre students to experience different roles. Gantar says the students’ freedom to interpret Strindberg’s words yields a different experience for each show: “The students respond differently to each other."
Although dark and hopeless, the play carries the audience’s attention and sympathy from start to finish. The actors are outstanding in their ability to successfully portray complex and believable characters, each displaying realistic signs of different mental illness.
Ghost Sonata runs through Saturday in Studio 1 of the Dalhousie Arts Centre. Performances are at 8 p.m. with an addition 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $14, $7 for students and seniors, and available from the Dalhousie Arts Centre Box Office. No latecomers will be admitted. The show runs approximately 70 minutes.
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