Long Beach has an addition to its theatre family. Chrysalis Stage was born in Whittier, spent time in Hollywood and now calls the Expo Arts Center home. To judge by their production of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, directed by Andrea & Aaron Morgan, it's a notable addition. Welcome!
Ghosts is neither supernatural nor scary. There are no chains that rattle in the middle of the night to scare the bejeezus out of the characters or the audience. In fact, it's almost unbearably human in its portrayal of the secrets behind a superficially respectable family whose patriarch, Captain Alving, died years before. To commemorate the anniversary of his death, his wife, Mrs. Alving (Andrea Gwynnel Morgan) endows an orphanage. She does so with the help of family friend and spiritual advisor Pastor Manders (Aaron Morgan). On the surface, all is well. Regina Engstrand (Courtney Sutton), daughter of Jacob (Frank Stasio), tends house; heart-of-gold Jacob wants to open an old sailor's home. A son, Oswald (ZackaRya Santoro), returns home for the ceremony. The family's only apparent blemish is the fact that their son is -- gasp! -- an artist.
Things, of course, are not as they seem.
The cast turns in an excellent ensemble effort as they reveal how each seemingly neutral incident in the story has a corresponding and more sinister explanation (adultery, out-of-wedlock birth, divorce, venereal disease, spending down an inheritance, mercy-killing). Combined, these incidents less describe the downfall of a family and more describe how it had been rotten for years, as deeds performed long ago slowly corroded its spiritual center. This ability to get us to think one thing when actually something else is going on is deftly staged and informs each performance. Morgan's Mrs. Alving: stately, proud and the victim of her husband's philandering. Santoro's Oswald -- bohemian and worldly, allegedly exhausted from a long train journey and scourged by disease. Sutton's Regina: innocent, on the brink of womanhood and not having a clue as to her true relationship with Mrs. Alving and Oswald. And Morgan's Manders and Stasio's Jacob: stalwart, Christ-like, keepers of secrets, and, if not enablers, then at least reluctant to disturb an otherwise disturbing status quos.
Because the acting and direction are so keenly calibrated to the story, you don't need to see the ghost of Captain Alving to appreciate the lengths to which his family deals with the consequences of his actions. It's more horrific than a horror production because, paranormal activity and special effects aside, it's true, because it alludes to each family's secrets, secrets that, in this case, have their origins in one long-ago act of treachery. That's why, out of consideration, you should think twice before telling your wan chum that she looks like she saw a ghost. It just might be true.
Performances are 8pm, Thursday, Friday & Saturday (including a performance at 9pm, Saturday, September 7), 7pm, Sunday. The play runs until September 30. Tickets are $12-20. The theatre is located at 4321 Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach 90807. For tickets and more information visit http://www.plays411.com/ghosts and www.chrysalisstage.com.