(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/12; via Pam Green.)
A sumptuous Ibsen revival starring Uma Thurman and a knockout premiere by Adam Bock close the Williamstown season with a metaphysical “boo!”
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two ghost stories are running side by side here at the Williamstown Theater Festival, but only one has “Ghosts” as its title.
That’s the headliner, on the festival’s main stage: Ibsen’s classic about a family and a society possessed (and literally sickened) by inbred amorality. To the play’s already overflowing grab bag of symbols and hot topics circa 1882 — syphilis, incest, arson, euthanasia — the director Carey Perloff adds gorgeous stage pictures, eerie live music and a glowy Uma Thurman giving a creditable performance in a famously difficult role.
Just across the lobby, on the festival’s Nikos Stage, is the other ghost story, as stylistically distant from Ibsen as a play could reasonably get. In Adam Bock’s “Before the Meeting,” the walking dead are recovering modern-day alcoholics and drug addicts, setting up a church basement for a series of 12-step meetings. They don’t discuss abstract philosophy; their chief concerns appear to be the maintenance of the coffee urn and the arrangement of the chairs.
But over the course of eight days, as the play digs deeper, its naturalistic trappings drop away. Eventually Mr. Bock takes us dangerously close to the glowing core of Ibsenism, giving the Off Broadway treasure Deirdre O’Connell a stupendous 25-minute monologue that rips open the story with heartbreaking self-reproach. Phantoms, she demonstrates, do not come unbidden into our lives; we invite them, over and over.
Photo: Troy Record.com