More Sputtery than Spooky
If you’re planning on catching a ride on The Ghost Train for it’s final weekend (presented by Wayward and Mission Theatre Companies, respectively), you might want to prepare a few things before your trip. I’d say specifically, make sure you all visit the restroom and grab a diet coke (insert caffeine of choice), before leaving the station. Surrounded by the charm and history of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, I had high hopes that this piece would mirror its built-in classic ambience.
Unfortunately the biggest problem here lies with the script. The characters are introduced and loosely explained, but as the play went on I kept expecting more nuance and intrigue. There are cliff hanger lines, “and then, and then, I saw…” yet nothing of any importance comes to fruition. Monkey wrenches get thrown into the plot yet never solved, I mean “who is the driver? Is HE a ghost? Who actually saw him?” It’s as if the playwright, Arnold Ridley, expects the crowd to have a clearer background of this ghost story (supposedly inspired by real events in Southern England c. the 1920’s) than a current modern audience could ever have.
Besides the lukewarm book, there are several production inconsistencies to consider. Set up as a classic comic farce, there are confusing takes to the audience, and “in jokes” that fail to clearly establish the genre. This, along with contemporary mannerisms, the occasional synchronized blocking, and several bizarre costumes choices, make it sometimes unrelatable. I kept waiting for the big reveal, WHICH, when it finally came, was underwhelming. Again I blame the the uninspired writing and can hardly put that on the cast and creative team.
That said, Tim McVean was a highlight as the quirky recluse, Teddy Deakin. He nails the period speech, the comic timing, and is all around enjoyable to watch. A little Harold Hill a little Groucho Marx, I chose to follow him even when he was not the focus of the particular scene. Similarly, Nissa Nordland Morgan and Vincent Hannam (Charles and Peggy Murdock), the newlyweds, are adorable and fun, as they clearly are comfortable and having a good time with one another. Even William P. Studer’s Station Manager, sounds like a classic Mainer at times and gives a few quotable gems in the vein of “you just can’t get they-ah from he-ah,” that warrants a few chuckles. Director Sarah Nargang, does what she can with a 12 person ensemble in very limited space, and the museum is a wonderful place to play on location.
My nit picky-ness aside, I am a fan of a good comedy and am in NEED of one as much as the next person. I wholeheartedly appreciate what these companies are trying to do and think that many people will enjoy a light hearted goofy evening of theatre. The Ghost Train performs three more times this weekend and gives you an opportunity for a “who done it” murder mystery that literally leaves you guessing until it’s final few minutes. Sadly the script does not have enough meat or merit to back up the rest of the two hour plus show.