Rorschach Fest’s ‘Ghosts’ Revival is a Piece of History

Gia On The Move, Matt Ritchey, theater reviews, John O'Keefe, Ghosts, Open Fist Theatre Company, Los Angeles

Reviewed by Matt Ritchey

Rorschach Fest is Open Fist’s 30th Anniversary repertory festival featuring short works from John O’Keefe, Harold Pinter, Daniel McIvor, and Caryl Churchill. The purpose of the chosen works, according to Artistic Director Martha Demson is that the plays, like the psychological test the festival’s name draws on, “reflect the perspective of the viewer as much as the content provided by the playwright.” The Festival is broken into different “Inkblot” evenings of content.

Inkblot A is GHOSTS by John O’Keefe. The play is a revival, an “experimental” theater piece originally produced and lauded in 1981 by San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. GHOSTS concerns the moments of transition into the great mystery, and as such, is timeless,” reads the quote on the credits page of the program.

The play, directed by the playwright, is a series of moments, monologues, soundscapes, and movements about what the human psyche may experience on the other side of the veiled curtain. Some ghosts share personal memories of life, some horrifying images of their death, we experience moments of what a soul is going through emotionally – stuck in a seemingly endless loop of primal scream laughter covering up intense horror and fear, and a moving piece about how one can manipulate time and space … and for all the tremendous power we might believe that to be, the power means nothing if the soul is left alone and empty.

GHOSTS, is, of course, a play about the unspoken needs of humans who are still living. The fears we live with, the secrets we keep, and O’Keefe’s production have some nice moments, including an interesting soundscape and a striking image using a doorway. The show spends a lot of time in darkness and uses much actor-overlap dialogue to create the classic “whispery spirit” noise we’ve all come to recognize from ghost stories in theater, film, and TV.

This is where GHOSTS becomes all too terrestrial. While the themes in the play will always be relevant, the production and style were perhaps “experimental” and groundbreaking in 1981 but have become so overused that the piece felt at times like a Graduate Thesis. The language, while beautiful and poignant, felt recited rather than lived in and it was only occasionally that the ghosts speaking felt like actual characters to be cared about. There will always be new patrons of the theater who will see a production like this for the first time and be mesmerized by the possibilities of, a blank space, but for the most part, this was an unnecessary restaging of material that has become cliché to the point of parody. If it was a new take or had updated production values or even a new project with similar themes, the piece could remain relevant, but GHOSTS is no longer an experimental piece. We received the results long ago and testing the same material again has merely led to outdated conclusions.

The themes of GHOSTS are, indeed, timeless. The play and this production of it, alas, are not.

Rorschach Fest plays at the Atwater Village Theater through April 5.

Photo (above) by Elif Savas: Cat Davis 

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