18 April 2024
Entertainment Theater

Evaluation: A Loyal Spouse’s Work Is By no means Carried out in ‘Ibsen’s Ghost’

Like “Oh, Mary!,” Cole Escola’s hysterical tackle Mary Todd Lincoln, Charles Busch’s “Ibsen’s Ghost” follows a notable lady of yore — Suzannah Ibsen, the spouse of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen — whose corseted unknowability is mined for mischief. Subtitled “An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasy,” this Main Phases manufacturing, in affiliation with George Avenue Playhouse, at 59E59 Theaters takes what few particulars are recognized about Suzannah, a driving power within the playwright’s productiveness, and turns her right into a campy diva.

The present opens with a widowed Suzannah, saucily performed by Busch, mourning the lack of a “conjugal associate of inexhaustible pyrotechnics.” She quickly learns how inexhaustible he actually was: Hanna (Jennifer Van Dyck), one in all Ibsen’s many obvious lovers, emerges and proclaims her intention to print her scandalous diaries.

Let the catty turmoil begin.

An affair is one factor, however Suzannah can’t abide Hanna’s declare that she — not Suzannah — impressed Ibsen’s feminist icon, Nora Helmer, in “A Doll’s Home.” Hanna’s plan additionally interferes with Suzannah’s try and publish 50 years price of the couple’s private letters. However, in one other blow, Ibsen’s writer (Christopher Borg) finds their home contents too boring to print.

Busch, a grasp of clutching pearls and fluttering eyelashes, has nice enjoyable taking part in various states of dismay. Manic, glitch-like tics betray his Suzannah’s matronly composition, and she or he shocks herself along with her indignity. As Hanna’s campaign strikes ahead, Suzannah turns into even haughtier, hurling classic insults (“You brazen jezebel!”) throughout Shoko Kambara’s tasteful, turn-of-the-century drawing room set.

Ibsen’s dramas, heavy on ruinous secrets and techniques his characters attempt to conceal, change into good for Busch to cherry-pick in sketching this present. There’s just a little little bit of “Ghosts,” with the looks of an illegitimate little one (Thomas Gibson) and a bawdy, scene-stealing maid (Jen Cody) whose spinal dysfunction causes her to stroll with a ridiculous pelvic thrust.

Even Ibsen’s lesser recognized “Little Eyolf” receives some love when Borg returns as one other character, a mysterious determine often called the Rat Spouse. Pulling from Suzannah’s precise biography, Busch turns her stepmother (Judy Kaye, superbly at house with Busch’s affected dialogue) right into a vamp, a calculating governess who places the strikes on Suzannah’s father. And between the maid’s nearly Transylvanian accent, Hanna’s British lilt and the writer’s Swedish Chef garbles, a treasure trove of tonal absurdity fills the air.

However Busch’s knack for style is a double-edged sword. Adhering to the specifics of outdated Hollywood is that this drag legend’s bread and butter, as exhibited in his 2020 melodrama, “The Confession of Lily Dare.” However right here, Busch sticks too intently to his supply materials, typically leaving us with the sensation we’re watching an Ibsen pastiche with solely a barely farcical twist.

Carl Andress’s jaunty course powers by the present’s slower patches, particularly when the play’s scheming ladies go for each other’s throats. Ken Billington’s lighting is a marvel of silent movie iris shots, catching the whiteness of Suzannah’s face and wig (Bobbie Zlotnik is credited with hair, wig and make-up design) as every scene attracts to a cliffhanger shut. And the luxurious interval costumes are by Gregory Gale.

As extra of Ibsen’s failings come to gentle, this reliably foolish romp inches towards commenting on the hidden ladies on whom nice males construct their careers. It’s a pleasant up to date contact, although not as trenchant as Busch’s traditional assertions on the extravagances of American storytelling.

Ibsen’s Ghost
Via April 14 at 59E59 Theaters, Manhattan; primarystages.com. Working time: 2 hours.