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Ruth Dworin & Emma Pfister-Price. Photo: Commonwealth Theatre Center
Ghosts Like Us
By Sage Martin
Directed by Maggie Rogers
Review by Lucas Adams
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Lucas Adams. All rights reserved.
Louisville, like every city, is filled with history. We see it in our buildings, in the people around us, and in the stories we pass down through our families. The Goat man at the Trestle on Pope Lick Creek has chased generations of young people and everyone has heard where their parents were during the tornado of ’74 or their grandparents in the Flood of ’37. There are certain buildings you walk by in this city that you know for sure harbor spirits; you look through their windows, half expecting to see the face of someone looking back at you.
More than its built landscape, a city is shaped by these events and tales. Shared experience binds us together and forms us into a community. Twenty years from now I will sit with my kids and tell them about the wind-storm in 2008 and the guy next to us will chime in with his story and Louisville’s storied meteorological mythology will continue.
Our ghosts can also scare the hell out of us and we use that to our advantage around campfires, at storytelling festivals, and throughout the art we create. Scaring your audience is fun, using their surroundings and history to do it makes for a strong theatrical production.
Commonwealth Theatre Center’s Ghosts Like Us, a world premiere production by Sage Martin, is a forceful study of Kentucky’s folklore, ghosts, and the environment, both natural and built, which have shaped our city and region. Vignettes featuring classic Louisville haunts such as Pope Lick Creek, the Witch Tree, and Waverly Sanitorium, along with our older Appalachian history, play out in different rooms throughout the building and the audience travels, with the help of guides, to view each one. It would be easy to simply make this a competition for the scariest story, but the playwright asks deeper questions; “How are ghosts made? What spirits lurk in the shadows? Why do we pass these stories down the ages and how do they help shape who we are?” It is more than a scary movie and the audience comes together to explore the meaning of being alive in Louisville and Kentucky.
It is easy to allow a concept such as asking the audience to travel throughout the building to overtake the work the cast and technical team are doing. Directors walk a fine line between forcing the play into the concept and allowing the concept to rise from the play. Director Maggie Rogers has shaped a piece that uses the St. James School (a haunted building itself) to its fullest and never leaves the audience asking, “why am I walking again?” The answer is clear and the device deepens the audience’s understanding of the show and keeps it from devolving into a storytelling event that would have become tedious very quickly.
Ms. Rogers has also deftly guided the play’s ensemble and each performance is very strong. The actors are connected to their audience and each other and did not let the heightened nature of the vignettes overtake them and turn their work into B-Movie horror acting. Instead, each vignette was played honestly and with intent and the actors let the play do the work for them, mixing thoughtful moments of history with genuine jump scares. It’s easy to tell a ghost story with a creepy voice, harder though to genuinely scare your audience and leave them thinking at the same time. I will admit that I woke up early this morning in the dark with just a tinge of dread for what might be in my house with me.
Ghosts Like Us runs tonight and again August 2-4. There are two performances of the hour-long show at 7:30 and 9:30 each of these nights. I would highly recommend the later performance after it has gotten dark and if there was one suggestion I would make to Commonwealth, it would be to back the performances up slightly to help the first performance provide some of the same shadow and darkness that so aided the later one. This may not be possible of course, but you will truly enjoy the show at either time.
Featuring alumni Aaron Roitman, Ruthie Dworin, Adi Dixit, Andrea Lowry, Bailey Lomax, Becca Willenbrink, Chase Bishop, Emma Pfitzer Price, Mary McNeill, Zoe Greenwald, and Mitchell Martin
Ghosts Like Us
July 26, 27, 28 & Aug 2, 3, 4
Shows @ 7:30 and 9:30 each day
Space for each performance is limited, so reservations are strongly recommended: firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.589.0084
Walden Theatre Alumni CompanySt. James School
1818 Edenside Avenue
Louisville, KY 40204
Lucas W. Adams has been involved in Louisville theatre since 2007. He has worked as an actor and director with Theatre 502, Pandora Productions, Walden Theatre, and StageOne Family Theatre to name a few and with Actors Theatre of Louisville’s New Voices program as a dramaturg. In addition to his artistic resume, Lucas was a teacher and fundraiser for many years at StageOne Family Theatre and is currently a member of the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Lobster Feast Event Committee. Lucas is an avid runner and can currently be found on the streets with his run club training for the 2018 New York City Marathon.