Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Spirits in the Material World

March 31, 2009

Deborah Strang and Joel Swetow
Photo: Craig Schwartz/ANW 2009

Have I mentioned before how much I love Deborah Strang? She’s a remarkable actor and one of the key performers at A Noise Within, the repertory theater company currently located over in Glendale. You have an excellent chance to catch her now in a big starring role as Mrs. Alving, the widow who occupies Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. The play concerns family secrets played out in the context of unraveling illness. It’s not unlike a 19th-century August: Osage County without the rapid-fire insults. This very well done production is as clear-headed and direct as you could wish for in the hands of director Michael Murray. The story and its psychological underpinnings are certainly from another era - Mrs. Alving is contending with the horrible implications of her deceased husband’s drunkenness and promiscuity while her newly returned son buckles under the symptoms of a tertiary Syphilis infection. It’s hard to imagine how shocking this play must have seemed at its premiere in the late 19th century. The Freudian and Foucauldian implications are immense. But Murray carefully steers the play away from either the melodramatic or the academic keeping the personal relationships at the center of the performance.

He’s helped in no small part by the captivating Strang. She’s on stage virtually the whole show and portrays Mrs. Alving’s ambivalence without any of her own. It’s a vibrant and at times lusty portrayal complemented by a number of other excellent performances from Joel Swetow as Pastor Manders, J Todd Adams as Oswald, and Jaimi Page as Regina the maid. Like many of Ibsen's works Ghosts exposes the hypocricy of Victorian morals. To a 21st-century audience, this is an easy target and this play in particular runs the risk of seeming obvious. But the performances across the board remain remarkably restrained. These characters are easy targets handled with great care by an exemplary crew. The production will remain on stage through May 9.

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Thanks for the review. I really want to see this.
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