By Victoria Dammer
If you expect to laugh during a two-hour production written by 19th-century playwright Henrik Ibsen, then his drama style is not your cup of tea.
But take the key themes from Ibsen’s Ghost, such as venereal disease, fornication, and incest, and throw them into the hands of the multi-talented actor, playwright, and Drag Queen Charles Busch and you have the makings of a hilarious comedy. They refer to Ibsen as the “father of modern drama,” but Busch is more like the “father of campiness,” and he showcases his wit. This satire delves into husband-wife relationships, a woman’s standing in the marital role, and basic good old commentary on famous people and their lives.
Busch plays Ibsen’s not-so-grieving widow Suzannah Thoreson Ibsen, who boasts she was the powerhouse behind her husband’s prolific writing career. Gerda (Jen Cody), plays the quick-witted housekeeper, afflicted with a spinal disorder, and though the audience laughed at her, we weren’t laughing at her disability but more at her resilience and comedic one-liners.
What good is a comedy without the abandoned illegitimate son of Ibsen, a sailor named Wolf (Thomas Gibson), showing up at the house and ultimately sharing Suzannah’s bed? She gets lofty ideas of sailing away with him, but that doesn’t transpire. Instead, one of Ibsen’s flamboyantly dressed lovers, Hanna Solberg (Jennifer Van Dyck) arrives, professing she is the muse behind The Doll’s House and claims to have a diary with damnable evidence about him. There are some theories a widow can’t allow to remain as conjecture, so Suzannah uses Wolf to steal the diary, and he burns it.
Other amazing performers graced the stage, with Christopher Borg playing the physic Rat Wife who knows a lot about the Ibsen family secrets, and Judy Kaye as Magdalene Kragh Thoreson, quick to belittle her daughter.
Rutgers professor Joanna Burger was in the audience and said she usually comes on opening night when the actors and playwrights are available for questions. Recently remodeled, there is no doubt that one-on-one interactions with theatergoers are a fine attribute of the George Street Playhouse. The theater is spectacular.
Busch and his company remind us that life’s drama should be funny and you need to see this before it moves on.
IBSEN’S GHOST: An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasy, presented by George Street Playhouse in association with Primary Stages. Written by Charles Busch and directed by Carl Andress. Now through February 4th. Running time is two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Starring Charles Busch, Thomas Gibson, Jen Cody, Christopher Borg, Judy Kaye and Jennifer Van Dyck. Set design by Shoko Kambara, costume design by Gregory Gale, lighting design by Ken Billington, sound design by Jill BC Du Boff and Ien De Nio, wig design by Bobbie Zlotnik, production stage management by Avery Trunko, casting by McCorkle Casting. Press by Print Shop PR.
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, 732-246-7717.