It was an unexpected spectral treat for the audience last Saturday evening at the Court Lyceum Theatre. During a production of Ibsen's classic, Ghosts, the actual ghost of Sir Henry Irving manifested itself center stage in his Mephistopheles costume from the legendary production of Goethe's Faust. After taking a deep, courteous bow to the audience, Irving's ghost voiced in a resonant baritone. "Irving at your service."
As the play progressed, Irving's ghost took an inordinate interest in Jane Amplebousem as Mrs. Alving, proclaiming "That's as finest a piece of flesh as I have ever seen in damnation!" Ms. Amplebousem seemed shocked, appalled and yet charmed at the same time. When Irving's ghost moved in for what looked like more devilish business, Amplebousem swooned as if on cue. Given that Mrs. Alving was now "indisposed," Irving's ghost removed his crimson cap (replete with phallic red feather) and began a sinuous stroll ---punctuated with seductive patter--- toward Regina Engstrand, played that evening with coltish appeal by Della Volesqueek.
It was then perhaps inevitable that Irving, as Old Nick's minion, became a combative and dramatic rival of Pastor Manders, enacted by Archy Plodtung. With any hope of script integrity gone out the French doors at the rear of the stage, Manders/Plodtung burst out in a rant animated with near religious fervor about the degradation of contemporary theatre, accusing the ghostly interloper of damnable immorality as well as, in fact, destroying his signature scene. Irving bided his time until the tirade ceased, and then coolly opined that there was a special place in Hell for actors like Plodtung who "out Herods Herod," as one of Sir Henry's illustrious colleagues had noted previously.
As for Osvald, interpreted with more than usual blasé artistic phlegm by Sam Slothtoe, Sir Henry gave him what-for with the business end of his infernal pitchfork, citing that he Osvald had as usual, "sat too long at table." And I must say that from that point forward I've never seen a more animated Osvald in any other production.
Though the evening needed no more surprises, an incredible finale ensued when the ghost of Ibsen himself appeared from stage right, clomping on in his high-heeled shoes and wielding his cane menacingly at Sir Henry. "Vat aer you doint to der scenes and meir play?!" Ibsen demanded.
"Just injecting some well needed diabolical plot twists, old boy," retorted Sir Henry. A ghostly duel then erupted between Henrik and Henry with the diminutive, portly Ibsen attempting to strike telling blows with his cane on the tall, lanky Irving, who fended them off deftly by expert wielding of his pitchfork. The duel was well met with raucous cheers and lively rooting for both combatants from the audience, as the spectral pair thrust and parried back and forth across the stage, while Plodtung sat on a couch upper stage left with face disconsolately in hands and Miss Volesqueek looked on rapturously at the action.
Yet, all ended upon a triumphant note after curtain with both Ibsen and Irving shaking hands eerily center stage and accepting graciously the accolades of the riveted audience in standing ovation. An encore performance has been planned for next Wednesday's matinee much to the chagrin of Archy Plodtung.