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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

GhostsAsolo Conservatory for Actor Training
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Big Top Holidays

Carla Corvo and Marc Bitler
Photo by Frank Atura
Proximity to Asolo Conservatory offers me occasional opportunities to visit stalwarts of classical theater that I have either never seen, or have not seen in a long time. Thus it is with Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, in a translation by Rolf Fjelde. It is hard to believe how strongly a 135-year-old play resonates. There are strong parallels with the #metoo movement, as most of the behaviors that drive the play's plot points begin with sexual misconduct.

Past Asolo Conservatory productions have demonstrated the difficulty of casting older characters and how this can undermine a production. The issue crops up here—two of the lead roles could be better cast with actors who have more life experience—but only the relationship between Regina Engstrand and her father Jakob is severely compromised, and that is because the actress portraying Regina doesn't seem young enough for the role, rather than the father seeming too young. Other age relationships are approximated rather than perfectly delineated.

Director Andrei Malaev-Babel has helped his entire cast capture the overall melancholy that seems to pervade Ibsen's characters, perhaps a characteristic of Scandinavia in general. At the center of all the emotional turmoil is Pastor Manders, played with strength and dignity by Jonathan Grunert. In a major departure from her role as a 13-year-old in the last Asolo Repertory Theatre production, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Carla Corvo plays Helene Alving, matriarch of the household. Both of these actors could use more life seasoning to give fuller emotional gravitas to their characters. Joe Ferrarelli plays Jakob Engstrand, and Alex Pelletier is Jakob's daughter Regina. Ms. Pelletier seems more in the range of late 20s or slightly older, which compromises Mr. Ferrarelli's portrayal, believable as say mid-40s but not as a decade older. The finest, most age appropriate performance is Marc Bitler as Osvald Alving; in his final scenes, as he emotionally comes apart, he is devastating.

Malaev-Babel has taught his cast the naturalism that is so integral to Ibsen, and the complex relationships are kept clear. This production is aided by fine scenic and lighting design by Chris McVicker and costume design by Sofia Gonzalez. Voice and dialect coach Patricia Delorey does exemplary work and, except for a few bits of important dialogue spoken from the rear of the stage, the voices carry well into the smallish Cook Theatre.

I relished the chance to see this classic Ibsen drama, one of his best, for the first time.

Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training's Ghosts, through January 20, 2019, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For more information visit or call the box office at 941-351-8000.

Cast (in order of appearance):
Regina Engstrand: Alex Pelletier
Jakob Engstrand: Joe Ferrarelli
Pastor Manders: Jonathan Grunert
Mrs. Helene Alving: Carla Corvo*
Osvald Alving: Marc Bitler
*=Appears courtesy of Actors' Equity Association