Ghosts in a sinister world

Ghost Sonata opens on a sinister world of whispers and shadows.

Brandon DeJong as Old Man pleads with the Student

Brandon DeJong as Old Man pleads with the Student

Ghost Sonata opens on a sinister world of whispers and shadows.

Stone-faced people exchange furtive glances from doorways or steal darting looks from behind newspapers in this fascinating season-closing production from Red Deer College Theatre Studies students.

A heroic young man named Arkenholz unwittingly steps into this unsettling world.

Idealism initially shields the student from seeing all the hostility and strangeness — especially after he becomes bewitched by the daughter of a seemingly perfect family.

Hummel, an ancient man Arkenholz meets in the town square, promises to provide him with an entry into the family — as long as the young man is willing to do his bidding.

But the student eventually learns that nobody says what they mean and nothing is as it appears in this one-act Expressionist play by August Strindberg.

The darkly entertaining production, imaginatively directed by Edmonton’s Mieko Ouchi, gave first-year students a chance to stretch their acting skills when it opened Wednesday night in Studio A of the RDC Arts Centre.

The cast rose to the challenge brilliantly, delivering mannered performances that struck the balance between creepiness and introspection — especially Krysta Larsen’s portrayal of the colonel’s wife, The Mummy, who has lived in the closet for 20 years and thinks she’s a parrot.

Natascha Schulmeister well evoked the troubled innocence of The Daughter, and Marg Webster and Danielle Bye provided strong portrayals of two servants who reveal much of the family’s past.

Arkenholz and Hummel were played by a series of actors who managed to keep up continuity while highlighting various facets of the two characters.

The manipulative old man was effectively portrayed by Dan Vasquez, Bandon De Jong, Derick Neumeier, and Chris LeVann, while the student was played by Chantelle Waschuk. Tucker New, Adam Hynes, and Jordan Galloway.

But the real star of the production was Ouchi’s vision, which drew heavily on Japanese motifs for the set, costumes and music.

Set designer Patrick Beagan used paper screens to silhouette characters plotting behind closed doors, while costume designer Carrie Hamilton used heavily textured fabrics in back with white accents to echo the oppressiveness of the script.

Ghost Sonata was written in 1907 to express Strindberg’s dissatisfaction with the hypocrisy, stagnation and secrets that plague many families.

He considered this a festering blight on society — and certainly illustrated it in his thoughtful 90-minute play that compares the soul-sucking nature of some people to vampires and the alienation created by others to mummies.

While neither supernatural creature is literally depicted, there are ghost characters in this drama that appear as grim reminders of sins committed in the past.

Strindberg poses the question: Is it possible for innocence to survive in a world that’s poisoned by deceit and fear?

Arkenholz craves a wholesome and honourable life and confesses his dreams of marriage and children to The Daughter. Yet the case is made for words being the biggest betrayers.

“In silence we see thought . . . Silence conceals nothing. Only words conceal.”

The play continues to Saturday, April 16.

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