Thursday, October 14, 2004

'Thirty Ghosts' uneven

Theater review

Jackie Demaline
Enquirer staff writer

Anne sees dead people. At least, she sees one dead guy, and some dead horses and hears a dead dog barking.

Buried somewhere in the depths of Thirty Ghosts, getting its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre, playwright Robert Lewis Vaughan has some observations worth pursuing about what haunts us.

But Vaughan hasn't become a better playwright since his Praying for Rain premiered at Ensemble in 2002. Rain and Ghosts have lots of problems in common. This is a playwright who continues to be all over the place without going anywhere.

Anne (Peggy Cosgrave) has - oops - bought a haunted house. Designer Brian Mehring has made it look exactly like the setting of a Stephen King novel.

Cosgrave, who's brought her high energy and charm to Women Who Steal and Women of Lockerbie for Ensemble Theatre, is terrific as always.

This time she's a magazine writer so undone when a story leads to the murder of baseball player Luke (Joshua Neth) that she retires to the country - and her guilt forces his ghost to come along.

Vaughan's intriguing thought is that there's not enough of the ghost to go around, so his mourning wife (a. Beth Harris) is left with nothing of his spirit.

Harris has developed into a stage force and Neth, on loan from Cincinnati Shakespeare, demonstrates just how good that company is. With Cosgrave, they carry this script on their backs.

But Ghosts is flabby and tedious. Doors slam spookily, there are some very cool video effects, and Vincent Olivieri delivers whoo-whoo sound design, but Vaughan is so busy packing on ideas that he forgets to create compelling characters.

As enlivened as the play is by three strong performances, it's deadened by three bad ones.

Shelley Little is listless as Patricia, the ghost of a young woman murdered in the 1920s.

Steven Bishop is nondescript, and poor Jim Nelson gets stuck with the role of playing Patricia's wacko pop.

Thirty Ghosts, through Oct. 31, Ensemble Theatre, 421-3555.


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