_The Ghost Sonata_
Written by August Strindberg
Directed by Jessica Carmichael
Starring Mari Chartier, Richard Lam, Ian Leung, Sereana Malani, Marie Nychka, Laura Raboud and Melissa Thingelstad
Runs Thursday, Sept. 20 – Saturday, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m., preview on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m., matinée performance Thursday, Sept. 27 at 12:30 p.m.
Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue and 112 Street)
Tickets $10 for students at the Timms Centre box office
Some directors would be content to present an exact rendition of a classic or well-known script. But for Studio Theatre’s production of The Ghost Sonata, director Jessica Carmichael had a vision for the play that involved drastic changes like cutting the cast in half, adding new characters and contemporary music and challenging playwright August Strindberg’s original beliefs.
“With The Ghost Sonata, I wanted to cut — I wanted to reimagine,” she explains. “I like to do that where I’m putting different texts into the script. It’s like having a conversation with the playwright through materials that are contextual to the play or more contemporary.”
As an MFA directing candidate at the U of A, The Ghost Sonata is Carmichael’s final project before presenting her thesis and earning her degree. It was her choice to conclude her time in the program with Strindberg’s well-known modernist chamber play, which explores the notion of non-reality and humankind’s struggle with nostalgia.
“I think the biggest reason I chose The Ghost Sonata was because I was interested in the idea of illusions in our world and the idea of coming to the end of your life,” Carmichael says. “Because I’m older now as well, I could empathize with Strindberg in coming to the end of your life and wondering about the world that we are living in and what we are connected to.”
Strindberg had a consuming interest in dematerialization, looking at why people hold onto things and how they let them go later. These ideas are explored in the original version of the play, which follows a young man with otherworldly connections as he interacts with people in his reality. The major relationship of the plot is between the young man and an elderly man who embodies Strindberg’s desire to keep things as they are. More specifically, the man can’t let go of his conception of a utopia existing in a mysterious and beautiful old house he once owned.
“Inside the house are people the old man knows — they are people from his life. He wants to get into the house because he wants to hang onto an idea of paradise. But what happens is that in the house, not everything is as it seems,” Carmichael says.
Because The Ghost Sonata is Carmichael’s thesis, she was given full creative freedom to expand and work through these themes of illusions and reality. Carmichael chose to work within her niche — intertextuality — and began the complicated task of deconstructing and re-imagining the plot and script. Her changes focused on adding and expanding characters using her own text as well as that
from contextual and contemporary sources. This process allowed her to delve deeper into the non-reality in which the two men exist and to explore other aspects of the plot she was curious about.
One of Carmichael’s largest adjustments was the expansion of the Dark Lady, a character with only two lines in Strindberg’s original. Her adaptation includes the mysterious dream woman as a major thematic character, which ultimately allows Carmichael to challenge Strindberg’s notable misogyny and to explore his fixation on maintaining an unattainable ideal.
“I wanted to look at the constriction of women, especially in terms of women as an illusion of innocence, purity and beauty and how we hold onto those things,” Carmichael explains. “So the Dark Lady helps explore that because she helps the women in the play move towards that goal of opening up the old man’s eyes to letting go of illusions.”
Reflecting on the number of changes and the work she’s put into the production, Carmichael seems nostalgic as she and the cast and crew prepare to open the season at Studio Theatre. And while her time in the MFA program is all-too-quickly coming to an end, she knows The Ghost Sonata was the perfect piece to finish her degree.
“It’s been a great experience. There hasn’t been a time where it was boring. And that’s a big thing when you pick a piece for your thesis and you have to write this 200-page paper on it,” she says.
“There’s not been one moment where I haven’t been excited to explore the piece deeper.”
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