Ghost Light

Just in time for All Hallows Eve, Renegade Theater pulls a hearty illusion in its latest production, “Ghost Light” which runs Thursday through Saturday, October 25-27, 8pm, at Teatro Zuccone.  

A world premiere written by local actor/director Andy Bennett, “Ghost Light” features some of Duluth’s favorite actors: Evan Kelly is our tuxedoed Master of Ceremonies; Jason Page pulls some punches as Arcana, a vintage 1900 magician who defies his own dictum that magic happens only when you believe. Red-haired Derik Iverson and pig-tailed Sarah Diener are joined by Matt Smith and Jessica Ilaug, portraying a gaggle of young ghostbusters. Daniel Novick and Luke Moravec make their own quest terror-ific. Victoria Main as theater manager is the only oldster (and so, doomed?) in the cast, constantly on the walkie-talkie with dipsy, ultimately conniving Lacy Habdas of the tiny pink mini-skirt. The cast is the best thing going for “Ghost Light”.

A tale about the haunted Zenith Theater, it catapults us from a live 1912 vaudeville show that ends in mayhem to a present-day relaunch of the oft-abandoned playhouse. We soon learn that many 19th century pre-electrification theater casualties resulted from lit coal gas torches, but that ghost lights yet glow in theaters across the world.

A couple years ago, my son gave me a tour of Austin’s Paramount, and I recall the single lamp onstage in an otherwise dark theater. When we walked the catwalk, I was stunned how dangerous such a shadowed stroll might be. Perhaps the ghost light is meant for people’s safety, but its name alone conjures up other functions. Does it actually appease entities unseen?

Kelly ominously enjoins us not to talk nor leave our seats, setting the mood for mystery and hilarity. Arcana presents us with the eight tools of divine power, secrets of the ancient Taoists. A gold mask may be key.

But the ghost light (the lantern that drives away evil?) is constant. Except when it’s not. Dark and light equivocate throughout the show due to electrical problems. Neither the dumb kids nor we are ever sure when the dark will overcome.

The foursome keep leaving and being drawn back to the eerie theater. One returns to retrieve his meds. Others just want a spooky night out. While we just want them to get the heck out of there. A false-bottomed trunk that produces enticing viands and vinos, tarot cards (who will get the death card?) and a ouiji board that provides clues keep the young’uns entertained. Until the real entertainment begins, and then it’s a roller coaster free-for-all among the innocent, the not-so-innocent, and the downright awful.

You never know who’s going to get whom. Black robed spooks chill us beginning to end; where will they pop up- maybe a little too close? Bangs, clangs come from any corner. How do these actors walk in sometimes total darkness? And what was the function of the drape we tread upon, spread in the aisle near the exit door?

“Ghost Light” is mystery and high camp. You can resist or go with it. Bunches screamed along, adding to the riot. But the play somehow seems half done (half-baked?) One scene that began in the dark could have been merely a scene change. Figures onstage were attempting to lift cloth screens on high they just couldn’t seem to adjust. The audience helped out with laughter. Unless we attend again, we’ll never know what that was all about. Or was that all it was about?

Julie Ahasay is a versatile director but this play seemed to have a willy-nilly of its own. For a fresh Samhein take, “Ghost Light” gives a new option. I look forward to it, with some rehoning, in the future.