BWW Review: The Romance of Backstage Haunts Third Rail Projects' GHOST LIGHT
The newest offering at Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theater features a beautiful dreamscape depicting a woman in a small boat being guided through swelling ocean waves by a friendly face painted on the moon. As designed by Brett J. Banakis (set), Montana Levi Blanco (costumes) and Eric Southern (lights), it's a romantic tribute to a style of theatre that made box offices buzz over a hundred years ago.
And though the visual is the first stage picture the audience sees in Third Rail Projects' premiere production of Ghost Light, its appearance doesn't occur until the evening's final moments.
That's because the enchanting tribute to the world of greasepaint and powder created by conceiver/playwright/director/choreographer Zach Morris and conceiver/director/choreographer Jennine Willett takes place primarily in the wings, the dressing rooms, the hallways, the staircases and even in the lobby of the Off-Broadway playhouse.
As anyone who works in a theatre will tell you, the late night hours are when the ghosts of its long-gone productions come out to play. Before locking up, a single light on a stand, called the ghost light, is placed center stage to appease the ectoplasmic occupants before plunging the house into darkness.
Though there may be a hundred patrons present, visitors to Ghost Light are admitted in small groups for a guided tour of the numerous nooks and crannies of the venue, where sixteen engaging and talented ensemble members perform various vignettes pertaining to the day to day events of a life in the theatre. Naturally, each vignette is played several times throughout a single performance as New Groups are welcomed in.
In a hallway, you'll run into a haughty lady in a shimmering gold dress (Rebekah Morin) regaling guests with stories of the ghosts that famously inhabit London's Drury Lane Theatre and Broadway's Broadhurst. Soon after, you're likely to run into a clownish fellow (Ryan Wuestewald) who appears to have possibly just been waiting for Godot, delivering an absurdist monologue about a playwright hanging out in a bar who at this moment may be writing the monologue he's speaking.
On the way up a staircase, you may be stopped to observe below a drunken actress (Roxanne Kidd) desperately trying to climb the steps with little remaining sense of balance, then be greeted by an exuberant Shakespearean actor (Carlton Cyrus Ward) who addresses audience members as his new interns and inserts them into a scene rehearsal.
We're trained in janitorial duties by a hearty maintenance worker (Josh Matthews) and taught how to work the special effects that create that stormy sea visual by the actress who appears in the boat (JesSy Smith). The madness that leads to curtain time is played out in a choreographed scene where actors respond to the stage manager's calls while rushing from room to room in various stages of dress and undress.
While each character is no-doubt meant to represent the ghosts of the theatre, the most haunting moments involve overhead views of a pas de deux through the auditorium by an actress and a director (Marissa Nielsen-Pincus and Niko Tsocanos) and of a rowdy dance party at the lobby bar.
Of course, it may cross your mind throughout the course of the evening that the five-year-old Claire Tow Theater, with its brief history of hosting new works by contemporary playwrights, may be a bit modern to be properly haunted. That's probably why, at the outset, audience members are handed tickets for the Montgomery County Playhouse's production of William Burns' "Exits and Entrances."
But if there's anything to be learned by Ghost Light, it's that the magic of theatre occurs only when you're willing to suspend all disbelief.