July 22, 2017

"Ghost Light" is a Love Letter to Theater

Although he's usually game for just about anything, my theatergoing buddy Bill declined when I suggested that we see Ghost Light, the immersive theatrical experience that the experimental theater company Third Rail Projects is presenting at LCT3's Claire Tow theater through Aug. 6. I suspect that may be because Bill was once an actor and later a stage manager and felt he didn't need the behind-the-scenes, in-the-wings view of the theater that Ghost Light promises. But the idea of it delighted me.

Ghost Light takes its audience members on a literal journey through theater history and through the Claire Tow, the tiny theater that sits atop the Vivian Beaumont. Over two intermissionless hours, scenes play out in its dressing rooms, its costume shop, hallways, stairwells, the flies overlooking the stage and even the lobby bar area.

Audience members are lead in small groups through the theater as performers enact scenes from Shakespeare, melodramas, musicals, an absurdist farce and other genres of theater.

Sixteen actors race from place to place. A scene in one room takes on new meaning when the same actors appear in another. The split-second timing of the choreography, directed by Zach Morris and Jennine Willett, who also conceived the show, is astonishingly impressive.

Regular B&Me readers know that the ghost light is the light bulb on a pole that theaters place on the stage when they're temporarily empty. The light is supposed to make sure no one trips over anything in the dark. But, according to theater lore, it also signals the ghosts of the theater that they are free to roam.

As Ghost Light would have it, all kinds of spirits from theater's past are haunting the Claire Tow, desperate to have one more moment in the spotlight. And yet while I enjoyed their individual glimpses into how shows get put together it's hard to connect those scenes into a satisfying narrative.

If you're going, you might want to pick one or two characters and pay extra special attention when they appear so that you can piece together their stories. But even that could be tricky since a few of the actors seem to play multiple roles. 

I'll admit I was also disappointed that the one black actor in the company seemed to have one of the smallest parts. But then it later occurred to me that she may have appeared in scenes that my group didn't get to see.

Audience participation has been built into the performances. I usually try to avoid shows like that or at least to avoid participating but Ghost Light's actors are so charming about it that I didn't mind doing the few things I was asked to do (hold a prop, move some scenery) at all.

What I did mind was the hammy guy in my group who tried to compete with the cast members. His girlfriend laughed uproariously at his antics. I thought he was just a pain in the ass and was delighted when, as occasionally happens, our group was split in two and they went one way and I another.

We all came together in the end for a finale that stretched on a bit too long. But despite the above carps, I still left the theater with a smile on my face. What can I tell you.  It's impossible for someone like me to resist this kind of theatrical magic.

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