A piece is ephemeral. Written words momentarily dance off the page as they are given body and voice, transformed into experience, and seen by an audience. The conclusion arrives, the play is over, but what remains?
The live performance is in the moment. It is not a product that you can take home, or put in your pocket, or enjoy later. ghost light, a new play written and directed by Frank DiSalvo Jr., makes you think about the very nature of creativity. With some theatrical traditions, superstitions and myths tucked into its fabric, ghost light explores the power and nature of belief.
ghost light takes place in an abandoned theater about to open its long-closed doors to a new production of Hamlet. As Derren, played by Robert Pike, takes the stage, he is only lit by a single incandescent bulb. It is a phantom light, a moving light left on when a theater is unoccupied or completely dark. Light reveals nooks and crannies. It is intended to prevent accidents and to guide any cast or crew member working late. It is said, and it is a long-known superstition, that every theater has a ghost, and the ghost light provides them with opportunities to perform on stage, soothing them and preventing them from sabotaging the production. ghost light takes its shape from these traditions while bringing a new twist to the “game in a room” framework.
Derren was cast in this production of Hamlet, and as other cast members rally (namely Mary, played by Amy Leigh Horan, and JT, played by Thomas DiSalvo), they question the legitimacy of the production. Have they been duped? As actors, they were disappointed, marginalized, wanted to know more or had opportunities that they missed. Once Sage, the producer, played by Mo O’Rourke, presents the first paycheck, however, they’re convinced the chase is worth it.
the Hamlet The rehearsal process gets off to a shaky start as the actors realize they need to adjust their expectations. Virgil, from the town’s historical society, played by Emberlein DiSalvo, greets them by repeating the story of Elrick Black, who accidentally died on that same stage. Virgil shockingly pronounces the name “Macbeth” in his farewell, unwittingly defying the superstition that the word is cursed. (Any comedian will tell you: never say macbeth in the theater because it is known to bring bad luck. The euphemism “The Scottish Play” is used instead.) As Virgil’s slip triggers unintended consequences, we in the audience, as well as the characters on stage, must decide how to follow through.
The actors get bigger and bigger as rehearsals for the play within a play continue. Amy Leigh Horan as Mary talks about the hardships of surviving New York City and reveals a believable vulnerability. We find out about Derren’s gift for speaking and how and why his path was changed. Robert Pike as Derren conveys an authentic presence and enhances the few moments where physicality comes into play. He’s someone you could easily get to know or approach. Thomas DiSalvo describes JT’s role as a guy comfortable with the easy way out, falling from one thing to another with his cell phone in his pocket, headphones dangling, and a snack in hand. Director Frank DiSalvo often pushes actors away when they speak. It would be nice if the figures could come closer so that the bodies more fully illustrate the thought in the mind.
Lighting by Dean Leong accentuates the black box space of the Callan Theater and the flickering ghost light that sculpts a face or posture. Julie Cray Leong’s costumes reveal a glimpse of temperament and reward us in the climactic moment of the play within a play Hamlet. Ember DiSalvo’s set design gives the impression of an aging structure with small crumbling brick shapes. Frank DiSalvo Jr.’s sound design transitions smoothly from scene to scene, but is occasionally slightly out of place with strong bursts of rhythmic impulses.
ghost light is original material and the Parlor Room Theater is to be commended for taking the risk of the imagination to its ultimate place in creating something substantial from an initial thought. The performance is fleeting, but the process and the experience can stay in the memory, a part of you forever.
Duration: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission
ghost light plays through June 2, 2019, by Parlor Room Theater at the Callan Theater in the Hartke Theater Complex, Catholic University, 3801 Harewood Road NE, Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the door or in line.