Those unfamiliar with Henrik Ibsen might think this play will be a straightforward evening of spooks and night bumps. And while the play certainly contains those, it’s also something a bit more (or less, depending on your opinion of literary mashups). Ghosts & Zombies might be more accurately titled Ghosts, a play by Henrik Ibsen, featuring some zombies added by playwright Gustav Tegby. Remember Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? It’s basically that.
And you know what? That works. Tegby’s additions are actually fairly light—approximately 75 percent of the play is just straight Ibsen—and thematically tie in quite well with the original’s limb-hewing criticisms of upper class morality. Tegby’s script, translated here by Chad Eric Bergman, simply uses zombieism to supplement the syphilis that plagues young Osvald Alving (Micah Kronlokken) in the original. Instead of Osvald’s father, the roguish Chamberlain Alving (Victor Bayona), being genuinely dead and gone, he’s a card carrying member of the walking dead who’s being held captive in the basement by his wife, Osvald’s mother Helene (Marsha Harman, wonderful as usual). When the slimy pastor Manders (Jeremy Trager) attempts to exorcise Alving, he instead gets bitten. A plucky youth ensemble, seen as a choir in the first act, gets put to good use filling out the zombified hordes in the second.
The set, designed by Bergman, is functional; director Breahan Pautsch uses its many back windows to stage some fantastic zombie pass-bys, literally upstaging the main action to great comedic effect. However, the moody lighting by David Goodman-Edberg and the pitch-perfect Hammer Films sound design by Nigel Harsch do a lot to elevate the material to a higher, spookier plane. While Ghosts & Zombies might leave non-Ibsen fans just a bit in the lurch, anyone with at least passing familiarity who’s in the mood for some seasonal fun would do well to check it out.
Akvavit Theatre at Strawdog Theatre Company. Written by Henrik Ibsen and Gustav Tegby. Translation by Chad Eric Bergman. Directed by Breahan Pautsch. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.