Review: The Ghost Project

by Lynn on January 23, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.,

Playwright and performer, Karie Richards

Director (original version), Jeff Culbert

Design by Glenn Davidson

Music composed and performed by John Sheard

Sound effects by Peter Thillaye, Steve Munro

These are not spooky ghost stories as much as they are verbatim recollections of people’s experiences with ghosts.  Writer/performer Karie Richards sets the tone, pace and atmosphere from the get-go, and in a bit of efficiency, gets the whole notion of the frightening ghostly visitation out of the way quickly.

It was a dark and stormy night in the first story. A young woman had just come home late and went up to her small bedroom and got ready for bed. She heard footsteps behind her, thinking it was her father who was coming to check if there were leaks in the roof. It wasn’t her father. It was an apparition who appeared at the foot of her bed.

Karie Richards tells the story quietly, with the pauses, little laughs, repetitions and particular vocal quirks of the woman who told Richards the story. Richards builds the tension slowly but relentlessly so that the gasp from the audience is well earned.   

None of the apparitions who appeared to the assortment of women and one man during this short, but captivating show seemed to be malevolent. There was no hurling of furniture around the room. There was a light that went on mysteriously for the first time in two years, but that’s about it.

These are stories filled with grace, kindness, comfort and love. Glenn Davidson has designed a warm, inviting set that is in keeping with the delicacy of the stories. There is an illuminated window above the stage. A stylish, comfortable chair is bathed in warm light centre stage. Up to the left is an armoire with hazy mirrored doors. Karie Richards goes to the armoire to make small changes in her wardrobe and jewellery as she changes from character to character. One wears a hat, another a scarf, another a sweater and so on. The transitions are smooth and natural. Each transition is accompanied by piano interludes composed and played by John Sheard.   

I was struck with how each story was so individual, but they all shared a common humanity. In one a little girl tugged at a stranger’s sleeve saying, “Tell her I’m happy” meaning tell the lady next to the stranger she was happy. The lady on the other side of the stranger had lost a young daughter to cancer. We are led to believe that little girl was the spirit of the lady’s daughter.  The spirit of a woman’s grandfather comes to her to tell her he’s proud of her. The ghost of the wife of a proprietor of a guest house ‘visits’ various guests in their rooms to see that they are alright and comfortable. A stage hand brings the music of the 40s for his late night shifts because he feels the ghost who ‘haunts’ the theatre would appreciate that kind of music.

The most touching story is of a woman who loved and misses her late mother so much but laments that her mother’s spirit does not visit her and she wonders why.

Each of these stories has an otherworldliness to them but also aspects of this world as well. Karie Richards is a gently commanding performer, bringing each of her storytellers to life with all their variations. In simple vocal shifts and body language she creates separate and distinct characterizations.

In her programme note Karie Richards thanks the people by their first names who agreed to tell their stories so that she could repeat them verbatim. Interestingly she does not introduce them by name during the show. I also found it an interesting choice not to explain during the show or in the programme how the show came to be and how she met the people who agreed to share their stories. This does not diminish the work in any way. I just found those choices interesting.

This is a beguiling touching show done beautifully.

The Theatre Centre presents:

Opened: Jan. 21, 2020.

Closes: Jan. 26, 2020

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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