Intimate company - Page 2

Cutting Ball's Ghost Sonata stalks the stage as the opening gambit of its Strindberg Cycle

The formidable James Carpenter portrays Director Hummel in 'Ghost Sonata.'

That doesn't mean it's triumphal, or terribly optimistic. The uncertainties, ambiguities, and pitfalls of patrimony, a deep theme for Strindberg, snake through the surreal story like fissures in a crumbling wall. The Ghost Sonata has a quiet anguish running throughout — even in its touch of sardonic humor, as exemplified by the haughty butler, Bengtsson (played a little too broadly by David Sinaiko) — and it rages under all the delicate and sinister weirdness of its setting and action.

This trembling, contorted energy becomes incarnate, and altogether palpable, in Carpenter's finely hewn and sensitive performance as Hummel, who even as a central demonic force is ultimately pathetic and even pitiable when his own reversal of fortune finally lands.

Carpenter is the best thing about this uneven if worthwhile production. If the play's historical influence is one thing, its life on the stage is another, at least here. It does look very striking in the meticulous and persuasive design work of Michael Locher (set), York Kennedy (lighting), and Anna Oliver (costumes). The production also features a pervasive, ethereal score and soundscape by longtime Cutting Ball artistic associate Cliff Caruthers. The stage may be small, for instance, but Locher expertly creates a sense of a marble-cool expanse in which the play's public street and inner chambers are seamlessly, miraculously evoked. A set of mobile dark-wood closets form a central edifice, first the outside wall of the apartment and then its inner parlor, with graceful economy. Oliver's fine period costuming adds luxuriously to the dreamy world of the play, as does the vaguely macabre makeup on several characters.

Melrose, moreover, who helms each of the plays in the cycle, has assembled a strong cast, several of whom must carry the play with little or no dialogue and only minute gestures. But while individual performances show flashes of depth and charm, his actors rarely connect forcefully or convincingly. The ensemble may cohere further as the production continues in repertory. But it was plain enough on opening night that this vital element of so intimate and intense a play as this hovers somewhere just out of reach. *


"Strindberg Cycle: The Chamber Plays in Rep"

Through Nov. 18, $10-50 (festival pass, $75)

Exit on Taylor

277 Taylor, SF

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