That patchwork of genetic memory you where given at birth, can you ever really get away from it? Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen dissected inheritance through DNA - that strange swirl one is born with that predisposes him/her to this or that - in Ghosts. The story is getting a retelling this weekend at the Junction, Al Serkal Avenue. In the case of character Oswald Alving, this ‘legacy’ will prove fatal; he is thought to have contracted syphilis from his father, who was noted for his ill repute. He is also in love with the maid, to whom he will soon find an unusual connection.
In act one, Helen Alving, Oswald’s mother, is well aware of her late husband’s behaviour; she sent her son away as a child to keep him from being ‘infected’ by it. Now, she is trying to fork over his fortune to fund an orphanage in another bid to distance son from father. When discussing the project with a pastor, amid reminisces - he is an old beau- and moralistic pronouncements, she reveals that her marriage was miserable, and only sustained because of something the Pastor once told her. She hints at wanting a different life. And yet the secrets of her younger years now come to haunt her. She finds Oswald flirting with the help who is actually his step-sister. [She is driven away by the thought of incest.]
In the end, Helen is left with her ailing son, considering euthanasia. “The play deals with a subject matter which transcends the boundaries of time,” says producer Asad Raza Khan. “The debate we are trying to spark is, ‘how much of our lives are in isolation, and how much do we impact everyone around us even with the smallest of acts? We chose to look away and be hypocrites when it comes to standards, morals, and rules of life. However, one must understand, that it all comes back to haunt us, as individuals and as societies. We are not as free as we think of consequence.”
Director Shanker Ramachandara says he’s stuck with Ibsen’s original telling, which flared a lot of tempers back in 1881 when it came to be. [It previewed a year later in Chicago.] “There are no comments, no suggestions, no answers. Even at the end, the audience is left to decide what path they, if they were the mother, would take.The whole play is about perception. Not prescription,” he says.
Humera Sultana, who plays Helen, said she had to dig deep for her role. “The most challenging part was finding the right motivations for certain decisions that my character makes in the final act,” she says.
Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ trundles through the meaning of happiness and pines for the lack of it, comments on social connects and rehashes the euthanasia debate. Remember, the story seems to say, we are all connected - there’s no getting away from that.
Don’t miss it!
Ghosts runs at The Junction from August 22-24.