By Betsyann Faiella

I was fortunate to pull the straw for the hilarious and perfect farce, Ibsen’s Ghost: An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasy, written by and starring Charles Busch (The Confession of Lily Dare) and directed by Carl Andress (The Confession of Lily Dare).

Sitting in the theater before the performance began, I noticed the quality of the set design and construction. Money was spent on this component, and the costume design as well.

Then stealthily, a man we are to discover soon is the first child of Henrik Ibsen and Mary Agnes O’Neill (a servant girl) enters the scene from upstage right, taking in the room and its contents, touching a few small items. He soon disappears as he hears Ibsen’s widow, Suzannah (Busch) entering the room. And Busch certainly knows how to enter a room, looking très soignée even in black mourning clothes. Suzannah is awaiting Ibsen’s publisher, George Elstad (Christopher Borg ), and is certain she will be making a deal to release the many years of correspondence between Ibsen and Suzannah. After all, she gave up a writing career (as a translator) to support her husband’s work and raise their son, who became the Prime Minister of Norway. Her hopes are soon dashed however, when the correspondence ends up being nothing but mundane notes about ordinary day to day activities. Naturally, Suzannah is convinced the public will be interested in the domestic life of the great writer, but Elstad was having none of it. It is only one of two major disappointments for Suzannah.

The other is that she was not the inspiration for Nora in Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House. There is an aggressive woman in town, Hannah Solberg (Jennifer Van Dyck), touting an autobiography that claims she was the inspiration for Nora. The main plot revolves around destroying the book, but other stories abound in this extremely funny, well-acted, well written work.  There’s the affair the servant, Gerda (Jen Cody ), is having with the Prime Minister (the son of Suzannah and Henrik), and who is afflicted with a hilarious collection of limps, contortions and spontaneous sexual outbursts. Watching Jen Cody is worth the price of admission. There is Magdalene Thoresen (Judy Kaye) who is the stepmother to Suzannah (with a backstory, naturally). The villain, Hannah Solberg, has been written as the ultimate aggressive woman, who wears trousers for her archery lesson, and has bound herself to live out the defiance of Nora’s ultimate act (in the play A Doll’s House). As an actress, Jennifer Van Dyck is a force of nature. The forgotten son, Wolf (Thomas Gibson) is a gentle, understated soul despite his years at sea, and he is in awe of his ghost father and is satisfied with that, and sleeping with Suzannah. There is another character who actually rids the home (and Gerda) of its idiosyncrasies and bad vibes, The Rat Wife or Rat Face or any one of a dozen other rat names (also played by Christopher Borg). In the end, Henrik Ibsen wins, and so does Susannah, and Hannah loses what she clawed for in her life. It’s not sad, it’s ironic and the show is very, very, very funny. There are all the “asides” you could ask for, and Charles Busch is in fine form.

Throughout, our heroine Suzannah is played by Busch with passion, ribald humor and more femininity than I can ever hope to have. If you know anything about Mr. Busch, you know he has been a student of film sirens and heroines since he was a little boy. He was meant to play women, it’s clear, and he has said as much, or that he always was self-conscious playing as a man and didn’t feel he could bring his full self to the role. His play is hilarious and I’m so glad people are still writing in this style. This show is highly recommended!

Ibsen’s Ghost by Charles Busch, Directed by Carl Andress

WITH Charles Busch, Thomas Gibson, Jen Cody (Shrek the Musical) as Gerda, Christopher Borg,  Judy Kaye (Diana: The Musical) as Magdalene Thoresen, 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, and wig design by Bobbie Zlotnik.

Presented by Primary Stages in association with George Street Playhouse, and by special arrangement with Daryl Roth and Ted Snowdon in association with Jamie deRoy, Ibsen’s Ghost will begin previews at 59E59’s Theater A (59 E 59th Street) on March 2, 2024, with an opening night set for March 14 for a limited run through April 14. Primary Stages is the Resident Off Broadway Theater Company at 59E59 Theaters.