comscore TAG succeeds with Ibsen play | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

TAG succeeds with Ibsen play

  • TAG
    Osvald Alving (Mathias Maas) and Helene Alving (Frankie Enos) discuss the legacy of her late husband -- Osvald’s philandering father -- in “Ghosts.”

The Actors Group production of Henrik Ibsen’s "Ghosts" won’t shock Honolulu in 2010 as it did Europe in the late 19th century, but as translated and directed by Brad Powell, it is still solid and surprisingly timely entertainment.


» Where: The Actors Group Theater, 650 Iwilei Road
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 14
» Cost: $20 (discounts available), $10 on Thursdays
» Info: 722-6941 or

Substitute AIDS for syphilis — incurable and fatal when Ibsen wrote "Ghosts" in 1881 — and one key element in the story falls into place. Who wouldn’t be shattered to learn they had contracted an incurable illness through no fault of their own?

And although Ibsen’s play is a scathing attack on the morality of his time, some of his characters are as contemporary as some of the politicians currently campaigning for office.

Helene Alving is a wealthy widow who has underwritten the development of a children’s home as a memorial to her husband. When Pastor Manders, her longtime spiritual and financial adviser, stops by to review the final financial arrangements, he opens the door for mutual recriminations and stunning revelations.

Frankie Enos (Helene Alving) gives the show a solid foundation with her portrayal of a woman who is haunted by the ghosts of the past and grimly dealing with their legacy. Enos plays angry and bitter quite well, but she deftly sheathes her claws in her mother-and-son scenes with Mathias Maas (Osvald Alving).

It isn’t clear at first whether we’re watching Helene smothering Osvald, clinging to him for survival or both, but in this show a bit of ambiguity is not a problem.

Maas also morphs nicely from pipe-smoking man-child to something much more complicated. As the story progresses we see Osvald grapple with his own set of problems even as he plots the seduction of his mother’s maid.

Alan Picard (Pastor Manders) has a demanding task playing a character who often ducks behind sterile church doctrine and boilerplate preaching. It would be easy to fault Picard for sometimes sounding flat, almost as if he is reciting his lines by rote, but as the story develops and various secrets are revealed it all comes into focus; the good pastor sometimes finds it easier to respond on autopilot rather than confront uncomfortable realities.

Scott Robertson (Jakob Engstrand) adds an ominous edge to the action as the crippled, rough-edged carpenter hired to work on the children’s home. At first, Engstrand appears to be the designated villain who gives Robertson little to work with beyond a theater stage snarl. However, the actor gets to show much more in the later scenes.

Lauren Ballesteros (Regine Engstrand) completes the cast with a charming performance as the Alvings’ maid — who also happens to be Jakob’s daughter — and who finds herself caught in the middle through no fault of her own. Ballesteros’ performance captures Regine’s dreams, her modest ambitions and her understandable hesitancy when the Alvings reach out to her.

Powell writes in the program notes that he has "longed" for years to do an Ibsen play in Hawaii, and he is doing "Ghosts" in grand style. The set — a room in the Alving mansion — is decorated in authentic Norwegian style and includes a window with a gorgeous view of a fjord. The score consists of compositions by one of Norway’s foremost composers.

The dialogue is in English, but Powell adds to the ambience by including some basic Norwegian vocabulary. He also sets an excellent example for other local theater groups who stage plays with non-English vocabulary by including a list of the English equivalents in the playbill.

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