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Ibsen's Ghost

A person sitting on a couch

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Charles Busch (Photo: James Leynse)


Ibsen's Ghost

An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasy


By David Schultz


Playwright Charles Busch, with his long-time director Carl Andress in tow, have dragged -- in more ways than one -- Henrik Ibsen, the "father of realism" back to the modern stage. In Ibsen's Ghost the focus is on his widow, Suzannah Ibsen, not her husband. But the specter of Ibsen's imposing visage lords over the proceedings with his glowering portrait hanging over the mantel in the impressive Victorian setting, designed by Shoko Kambara.

Mr. Busch embodies the recently widowed wife of the Norwegian playwright. Set in 1906, the intricate plot spirals into complex circles. Suzannah has squirreled away her intimate personal letters that she hopes to present to her publisher George Elstad (Christopher Borg). But alas and alack, trouble brews when Hanna Solberg (Jennifer Van Dyck) suddenly appears with her own secret diary that makes the case that she was the true inspiration for Nora from Ibsen's classic A Dolls's House. This infuriates Suzannah who was convinced that she was his muse. Let the games begin!


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Jennifer Van Dyck, Charles Busch (Photo: James Leynse)


In rapid scenes that introduce a plethora of quirky odd characters we meet: a swarthy sailor with the apt name of Wolf (Thomas Gibson) who is Ibsen's long-lost illegitimate son; Suzannah's stepmother Magdalene Thoresen (Judy Kaye); Gerda (Jen Cody) a maid with convulsive scoliosis and twitching walk that is silly and sublime at once; and rounding out the menagerie The Rat Wife (Christopher Borg, who also plays Ibsen's publisher). He resembles the witch in Hansel & Gretel but with rat exterminating skills on hand.

The more familiar one is with Ibsen's oeuvre, the connect-the-dots humor has even more heft. But notwithstanding being aware of the intricacies of various plot details of his classic works, the two-hour play flies by in a zippy sitcom style that can accommodate anyone with a passing knowledge of this celebrated playwright.

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The Ensemble of Ibsen's Ghost. (Photo: James Leynse)


The cast appears to be having a blast with the arch verbal bon mots that Mr. Busch has generously sprinkled throughout the evening. To detail more of the play's machinations would be a disservice to the demented repartee and antics that are displayed on stage. The absurdist energy that the entire cast embodies is infectious. Some moments are not entirely logical, but the almost Marx Brothers screwball moments compensate and since Busch has complete control of his company, he plays them like a Swiss Watch.

Many of the principals on hand have worked on previous Busch works, hence they are in tune and in sync with his methodology and sense of humor. The delectable costumes (Gregory Gale) and hair, wig and makeup design (Bobbie Zlotnik) are at the top of their game with expert flair and a comic sense of the absurd in their opulent designs of the era. Ken Billington's occasionally dramatic lighting design works his usual magic.

In retrospect, the convolutions of plot don't always make sense. But if the travails of the world are as close at hand as your cell phone or the dire circumstances of the world await just around the corner, it is a welcome salve to the weary soul to just sit back and relax with two hours of cultured lunacy. With Mr. Busch as our guide, the world can and does feel safer, and more amusing, at least for these few hours spent in a darkened theater.


Ibsen's Ghost

59E59, Theater A

59 East 59th Street (between Park & Madison)

646 892 7999

Through April 14th