The Ghost Sonata
REVIEW at Sonoma State University
The Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
A Night With the Living Dead
Strangely beautiful and eerie images fill the stage in SSU’s mesmerizing production of The Ghost Sonata at the Evert B. Person Theatre. Written in 1907 by tormented Swedish playwright August Strindberg, it was first staged in his own Intimate Theater in Stockholm the following year. It is one of the earliest examples of Expressionistic Theatre, where time, space and reality bend to the creative will of the playwright and director. For this reason, The Ghost Sonata is rarely seen, due to the difficulty in conveying the story’s meaning, which is enclosed in a dreamlike shroud.
The plot involves a young Student who appears to be fascinated by the people living in a fine house. An Old Man in a wheelchair that he meets outside has the key that will unlock the mystery of what goes on in the house. Its inhabitants include a screeching banshee-like woman called The Mummy who was once a young and beautiful wife; her husband The Colonel with secrets of his own, and their pretty daughter, “The Young Lady”. The action onstage is almost entirely in reaction to prior events that the audience has not seen, and so live on in the characters’ memories. They are all living in the past, focused on sordid deeds and revenge, a kind of living death that has many parallels in people we all know. There is a vampire-like Cook that drains the essence of life from those around her, servants wearing half-masks and a black-clad figure that emerges to project images of faces and fire.
The ensemble performance by the student cast is superb. Connor Pratt as The Student has a magnetic stage presence and moves gracefully through the dreamscape. Also noteworthy is Cassandra Slagle as The Mummy, a frenzied shadow of her former self. The Old Man, played by David O’Connell, is also a well-done and compelling performance. Creative direction and staging by Judy Navas brings it all together with surreal set design (by Anthony Bish) and highly imaginative costumes (by Michelle Dokos). Elements of Japanese Noh Theatre are added for good measure
The inventive use of black light lends an otherworldly appearance to furniture and props that at times appear to float through the air. Heavy fog, thunderclaps and strobe-lightening provide an unsettled, stormy atmosphere. Music in the third scene recalls “Twin Peaks” by David Lynch, who could have been inspired by Strindberg.
The Ghost Sonata is one of the most successful efforts by SSU to present original, entertaining theatre. Like a musical sonata, the story has no beginning, middle or end. It’s a challenging piece that was delightfully well-executed. Hopefully it will be presented again with a longer run so more will be able to enjoy its free-form, Expressionistic pleasures.
Through November 9, 2013
Tickets: $10 to $17
Evert B. Person Theatre at Sonoma State University
1801 E. Cotati Ave. Rohnert Park
Photo courtesy of Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Coming up at SSU:
Mega Hot Lava New Play Festival
By SSU Students
Curated by Scott Horstein
November 14-16, 2013
Studio 76, Ives Hall
Original script-in-hand readings of new short plays from SSU’s playwrights of tomorrow! Who knows what this year’s festival will bring?