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Theatre Sun May 09 2010

Review: The Ghost Sonata @ Oracle Theatre

There's plenty of crazy talk in Stringberg's modernist chamber play, The Ghost Sonata. Discussions of insanity, asylums and madness abound in this story of a wide-eyed student's descent into a hellish Stockholm apartment, but Max Truax's fearless production for Oracle Theatre does the masterful job of making Strindberg's batty, and at times impenetrable, language fresh, raucous, and most importantly, accessible.

"Accessible," though, should not be mistaken for "comprehensible." The Ghost Sonata will often baffle, but Truax shrouds Strindberg's psycho-babble in a ghostly fog that envelops the audience rather than distances them. It's so easy to get lost in the patterned surreality that accompanies the smoky projections, pulsing score, and heightened performances that the language itself almost becomes an extension of the music. Rich Logan's beautifully terrifying portrayal of the vampiric Jacob Hummel, who embodies a sort of toothy malevolence through his quaking voice and ghostly pallor, anchors an ensemble who, for the most part, feel pitch perfect. John Arthur Lewis could teach a master class in precision, making every gesture count, and Stephanie Polt, looking decidedly porcelain, acts the hell out of an underwritten role. Oracle company members Justin Warren and Sean Ewert, on the other hand, never truly earn their moments of madness, performing in a style that often feels too contemporary for this material.

The real star of this production, though, is Truax, a young director who's already made a strong impression at Oracle (where he directed 2008's Termen Vox Machina) and Trap Door Theatre, where he is a Resident Director. While a few deliberate choices fall flat (a clumsy dialogue-syncing sequence comes to mind), they're still bold choices, and it's this boldness that makes The Ghost Sonata so much fun. Strindberg? Fun? Yes. Spooky, creepy, crazy, hellish fun.

The Ghost Sonata opened this past Saturday, May 8, and runs through June 19 at Oracle Theatre (3809 N. Broadway). Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are a $20 suggested donations Friday and Saturday, and a $10 suggested donation on Sundays. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 773-244-2980.


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