reviews & photos of Ghost Stories
DAVE TARDIFF, CONCORD MONITOR
"Masterful Show" (Concord Production)
MARY COGSWELL BAUM
Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories is a brilliant collection of eerie tales from the greatest storyteller of all. The stories are a lively mixture of comedy, pathos, and the supernatural. Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories is a masterpiece of compilation and imagination as adapted by David John Preece. (Knightsbridge Theatre Production)
LA THEATRE FORUM
Through a combination of superb narration, detailed storytelling and surreal reenactments written by David John Preece, the sprawling slums of the seedy London lower westside come alive in Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories. Don’t miss this haunting and fulfilling journey into the paranormal. (Knightsbridge Theatre Production)
Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories deals with the supernatural. Successfully adapted to the stage by David John Preece, this lively, memorable play is appropriate entertainment for Halloween or for any night. The play’s crisp, but creepy, atmosphere is one of its many highlights. (Knightsbridge Theatre Production)
Montgomery County Sentinel Arts Critic
It’s Halloween, so why is the Montgomery Playhouse mounting Charles Dickens now instead of saving him for Christmas?
Well it turns out that besides writing those Yuletime stories and hefty novels (tried lifting Little Dorrit recently?), Dickens had other side interests. The Victorian era was also a Golden Age for classic ghost stories. Dickens edited several literary magazines that are a treasure trove for ghost stories, plus Dickens contributed several of his own efforts to this genre. And let’s not forget that Dickens’ most famous tale about Ebeneezer Scrooge is a ghost story.
David John Preece has assembled several of Dickens’ lesser known supernatural fictions into a play aptly named Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories and Montgomery Players is mounting a lively version up at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn.
There are eight tales in all, four in each act, but they run a full range of emotions and styles. They also recall a time when suggestion, instead of fancy special effects, could send a shiver down one’s spine.
Let me add that these are ghost stories. You will not encounter one vampire or hockey masked slasher or laboratory mutation all evening – just ghosts. In fact all seven actors end up being a ghost at one point or another. All horror tales reflect their age, and these Victorian gems emphasize themes of promises made, wrongs that need to be righted, and a love of a quickly receding pre-industrial past.
Also a surprising amount of humor. Horses narrate parts of a story and later a chair comes to life. A bad romance by a waitress gets amusingly thwarted and later a lawyer exorcises a ghost by asking a very obvious question. Other stories are far more serious. Several of the characters are sleeping or inebriated so maybe there’s a rational explanation for their tales. Other times Dickens leaves no logical door open.
Preece’s script is heavier on the narration and lighter on the action than it needs to be. Still, director Bruce Hirsch keeps the cast moving. John Bartkowiak keeps the set design very simple so each scene flows smoothly into the next. The cast is good and this is truly an ensemble effort. Still, let me point out Erika Jarecki as a talkative horse and later a mysterious lady in black. Also Will Strouse as the younger male in these stories – at times playing the admirable young man and then the more libertine cad.
But the whole cast is good. We range from miniature courtroom dramas to comic romances to dealings with that new fangled rail-road. The Letter from Afar is a quick ice pick of a chiller while The Portrait Painter is a more extended family drama. The weakest story is Sisters from Perth because it resembles an earlier tale in outline. Otherwise there is a surprising amount of variety here, and while Bagman’s Uncle is played for laughs, The Signalman is a far more serious and unsettling tale.
I think it was Aldous Huxley who gave the ghost story a serious blow when he wondered why ghosts always came so neatly dressed – since when did fabric develop an afterlife? This type of fiction developed overused conventions and they became less scary. Starting with Poe, and later Lovecraft, these were the types of stories that writers started moving away from until we developed the modern horror tale – more brutal and graphic, but scary once again.
Still it is nice to go back to a time when streets were lit by gaslight, when people sat for portraits, when travel was slow due to horse drawn carriages. It’s a simpler and more ordered time, but a curtain blowing in the wind could disrupt everything and still have one looking warily over their shoulders. (Montgomery Playhouse Production)