“The Ghost Sonata” is a Vivid Nightmare

​Presented by Fort Point Theatre Channel
Written by August Strindberg
Directed by Christine Noah

October 6 – October 14, 2017
Fort Point Theatre Channel
Cambridge YMCA Theater
820 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Fort Point on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Cambridge, MAThe Ghost Sonata is a fever dream wrapped in layers of turmoil and funny, disturbing absurdity. It’s staged to juxtapose the philosophical musings of a 1907 play on the material evils of the world with the current, oppressive toxicity of the contemporary political climate which social media does a great job of worsening. It’s a beautifully-executed nightmare.

In Ghost Sonata, the main character, the Student (a wide-eyed Paxton Crystal), can see ghosts. This leads him to both save the denizens of a house that catches on fire and to speak with a Milkmaid (Madeline Sosnowski) that no one else can see. An Old Man (Kevin C. Groppe) sees this and, flabbergasted at this ability, reveals that he knew the Student’s father and offers to be his mentor. The Student puts up some resistance. He has heard of the Old Man, specifically that he was the person who ruined the Student’s father who, after losing the family’s money, went insane.

But the Student agrees to take on the Old Man as his benefactor, anyway. Why? Because the Student sees the Young Lady (again, Madeline Sosnowski), the daughter of the Colonel (Chuck Schwager), through a window of their beautiful house as she admires the hyacinths in the window box. The Old Man promises they will be introduced. Leering at the audience, the Old Man explains this is all part of his plan. After this, we are plunged into a story of silent dinner parties and drowned women.

If it isn’t yet clear, this story doesn’t take place in our world. Short story writer Kelly Link, in a 2015 interview with NPR, described what she referred to as, “night time logic”: “Night time logic in stories, you think, I don’t understand why that made sense, but I feel there was a kind of emotional truth to it.” This is the best explanation I can think to give for what the play offers: compelling, well-put together, true, surprising, but difficult to parse.

My favorite performance belongs to the Mummy (Sally Nutt). She is one of several people in the play who takes on a monstrous persona; the Old Man and the house’s Cook (the fantastic Krystal Hernandez) are referred to as vampires and the aged Fiancée (Alexandra Smith) moves like a zombie with exaggerated “old” make-up. But the Mummy brings a clear focus onto the incapacitating emphasis social mores have on image. She is an Ophelia from Hamlet who was allowed to age, grow, and change.

This is why this production of The Ghost Sonata uses social media. Yes, the costuming mostly evokes the early twentieth century, but the actors wander and sit while staring at cell phones that illuminate their faces. Behind Hana Pegrimkova and Mario Avila’s beautifully constructed stage, there’s a screen where what the characters see is projected: Pinterest photos of food for the Cook, Tumblr reblogs of poetry for the Young Girl, bucolic Instagram posts for the Student, the Colonel’s patriotic Facebook posts, and rage-infused tweets calling everyone “LOSERS” and “SAD” from the Old Man. When the element of social media works, it illuminates the characters and the distance between the self-image they curate and their inner turmoil. When it doesn’t, it feels forced.

Perhaps the play’s most difficult element to update is the shining purity of its main character, the Student, or at least the idea that if you’re good, if you do as little harm as possible, you’ll be safe from the storm of cruelty that hides beneath the surface of every person. Who is safe from that but someone who can unplug totally? The Student’s ethos drives The Ghost Sonata to a chilling end and this staged dream to a baffling conclusion.

 

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

TCG has a list of things you can do to help.

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