Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 3, 2008

The Canterville Ghost

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
through November 9, 2008

By Donna Bailey-Thompson

The front page of "The Canterville Ghost" program states: "Adapted by Irina Brook and Anna Brownsted with the Ensemble from the story by Oscar Wilde." Well, the play is wild and who knows? Oscar may generate enough spin within his grave to haunt this interpretation. If so, Michael Hammond may continue as a cartoonish Canterbury ghost and double as an elegant ghostly Wilde.

This contrived production defies categorizing. There’s satire and farce and slapstick, and madcap comedy. There’s also shtik. Lots of shtik.

A too-rich Texas family defies a realtor’s warning about the Canterville castle being haunted and buys the place. Immediately after moving in, something possesses them to line dance to Achey Breaky Heart. They frustrate the ghost’s efforts to frighten them off. They reincarnate backwards a generation or so where, thank goodness, they’re no longer vulgar high rollers but proper English relatives of the notorious ghost. The pathetic, lost soul sadness of Sir Simon de Canterville (as depicted in Wilde’s original story) is ultimately revealed. He longs to be loved (and forgiven for murdering his wife three centuries earlier) because he knows that love is stronger than death. The pure love of the young Texas daughter, Virginia (winningly played by Alyssa Hughlett) brings Sir Simon the release he craves – a tender scene that uses Wilde’s words, devoid of embellishment, played by Hammond with appropriate sensitivity. Portraying the Texas parents with gusto are Dana Harrison as the wife, Michael F. Toomey as her husband, and Alexandra Lincoln as their other child.

There are speedy scene shifts and equally fast costume changes (all excellent, thanks to costume designer Shelby Rodger). Set Designer Katy Monthei’s secret doors, Tina Louise Jones’ lighting designs, Michael Pfeiffer’s weird sounds, and Ian Guzzone’s multiple props inject authenticity into the mayhem.