×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ghosts

Igmar Bergman's "Ghosts" isn't exactly Henrik Ibsen's. The celebrated Swedish filmmaker, who has announced that this production, making a brief visit to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will be his last for the stage, has set reverence and reticence aside and approached the great Norwegian playwright's text as a mere template.

With:
Mrs. Helene Alving - Pernilla August Osvald Alving - Jonas Malmsjo Pastor Manders - Jan Malmsjo Jacob Engstrand - Orjan Ramberg Regine Engstrand - Angela Kovacs

Ingmar Bergman’s “Ghosts” isn’t exactly Henrik Ibsen’s. The celebrated Swedish filmmaker, who has announced that this production, making a brief visit to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will be his last for the stage, has set reverence and reticence aside and approached the great Norwegian playwright’s text as a mere template.

He has radically cut the play and freely adapted it, inserted a scene that doesn’t appear at all in the original, interpolated dialogue from a pair of Strindberg plays, reimagined the characters in stark and startling new terms.

Bergman, who has a long history with Ibsen, seems to see the playwright as an artist struggling toward a deeper and more frank expression of the drives that motivate his characters and the forces that have shaped their psychology, much as the play’s Helene Alving has struggled to free herself from the conventions that have warped her life. Bergman has taken the liberty of completing the transition, according to his own lights, of course. The results are pretty extraordinary.

As promised, here is a “Ghosts” that, for once, doesn’t labor under the constricting corset of 19th-century dramaturgy: the genteel dialogue, the carefully plotted exposition, the thunderclap revelations timed like clockwork. It takes the stage in bold strokes, and pulses with stylized but emotionally convincing life. The characters have been freed to dispense with the masks of propriety that Ibsen’s style, grounded somewhat against its will in the naturalism of his theatrical age, imposed upon them. Their stunted personae have been put under a magnifying glass; their neuroses and afflictions are not exaggerated or distorted, just fully exposed.

Mrs. Alving, most significantly, is no longer the gently smothering mother, but a woman of sometimes chilling cynicism and emotional complexity, with a painfully tortured relationship to the son who has returned to the homestead after years of exile. Pernilla August’s alternately hot and cool but always intense performance is deeply in tune with Bergman’s vision; they peer beneath the surfaces of the doting mother of Ibsen’s original and reveal something more disturbing.

This Mrs. Alving scarcely seems to interact with her son until the play’s final, harrowing scene. (The role of Osvald has been trimmed to increase the play’s focus on Mrs. Alving’s psychology.) She sees in him, all too clearly, the ugly reprobate who fathered him, and is clearly repulsed — and haunted by insidious guilt for her revulsion.

The guilt derives from the damage done by emotional neglect. Mrs. Alving’s decision to send her son away so he wouldn’t see his father’s corruption isn’t simply a noble sacrifice here. When August speaks triumphantly of the day she freed herself from her husband’s dominion and took “control” of the household, we can easily see how erasing the son who reminded her of the father might have satisfied her own needs, too. Bergman also has interpolated a scene between the maid Regine (a sharp Angela Kovacs) and Helene that further amplifies Mrs. Alving’s character and draws a stark parallel between the opportunistic young servant and her well-born mistress.

The results of Osvald’s life of emotional neglect are obvious: His corruption is far more pronounced here, too. He is not the doomed artist, adorned with a halo of martyrdom, that Ibsen created, but an emotionally crippled man who is all too visibly the ghost of his sinful father. (Jonas Malmsjo wears “Night of the Living Dead” makeup, aptly enough.) His relationship with Regine, so tentative and hopeful in the original, is here corrupt and plainly sexual.

And yet August’s Mrs. Alving is far from a repellent figure. The clarity and sharpness of the performance infuse the character with a humanity that smoothes away her hard edges. Withdrawing suddenly into moments of anguished silence, her eyes fixing on some painful specter in her mind, she is clearly a woman haunted by her own failures — her failure, above all, to pursue self-fulfillment through love.

There are bursts of warmth here, too. That Mrs. Alving’s aborted relationship with Pastor Manders has continued to haunt their lives is bluntly illustrated when Helene enfolds him in a sexual embrace. And yet there is something almost threatening in her affection: Sifting through the ashes of a life warped by Manders’ fear and hypocrisy, Mrs. Alving seems wickedly intent on tormenting him with both the damage he’s done and the love he chose to forsake.

The drama unfolds on a set upholstered in dark green, surrounded by a trompe l’oeil curtain that’s like something out of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. The characters themselves act like ghosts, hanging around in the shadows eavesdropping whenever possible. A turntable keeps the set’s furniture in motion, suggesting the inescapable nature of their fates: What goes around, comes around.

So it is apt that Pastor Manders, played with fragile unction by Jan Malmsjo, should be the cause of the conflagration that leads to the play’s conclusion; it was he who helped pile the tinder under Mrs. Alving’s life, after all. And it is gruesomely apt that Mrs. Alving should be forced to acknowledge the destruction she has inadvertently wrought, too, by helping her son to take his own life. Long ago she struck the match that set her own hopes for happiness ablaze.

Ghosts

Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theater; 900 seats; $75 top

Production: A Brooklyn Academy of Music presentation of the play in two acts by Henrik Ibsen, translated, adapted and directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Creative: Sets, Goran Wassberg; costumes, Anna Bergman; lighting, Pierre Leveau. Opened, reviewed June 10, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Cast: Mrs. Helene Alving - Pernilla August Osvald Alving - Jonas Malmsjo Pastor Manders - Jan Malmsjo Jacob Engstrand - Orjan Ramberg Regine Engstrand - Angela Kovacs

More Legit

  • Michael Shannon Audra McDonald

    Michael Shannon, Audra McDonald to Star in Broadway Revival of 'Frankie and Johnny'

    Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald will portray two lovers whose one-night stand turns into something deeper in the Broadway revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The production is being mounted in honor of playwright Terrence McNally’s 80th birthday. Shannon will play a short-order cook and McDonald will portray a waitress, roles [...]

  • Hamilton review London

    ‘Hamilton’ Helps Drive London Theater Attendance, Box Office to Record Levels

    Brits don’t just like going to the movies; they’re heading to the theater in greater numbers than before, too. “Hamilton” and other hits, particularly musicals, helped drive an uptick in box office receipts and attendance in London’s West End and across the U.K. last year, according to figures from the organizations Society of London Theatre [...]

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content