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Caitlin Grammer, left, Maddie Hightower and Chris Shroff in a scene from LU’s “Ghosts.”

LU’s production of Ibsen classic shines light on secrets

The ghosts of our past decisions seem to have a way of visiting us, no matter how hard we try to bury them.

In Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, “Ghosts,” presented by Lamar University, Nov. 8-11, Mrs. Helen Alving (Caitlin Grammar) is on the eve of unveiling an orphanage in honor of her late husband, a man who has an unimpeachable reputation in the community. But Helen’s motives are not completely altruistic. The orphanage is the latest attempt to control the narrative of her life — something that a woman of her time was not expected to do.

As the patronizing Pastor Manders (Josh Pendino) lectures Helen’s on morality and her husband’s legacy, the truth of her marriage — and the predilections of Captain Alving — comes out, stunning Manders, who himself has a link to her past.

The opening scene between the maid, Regina (Maddie Hightower) and her disreputable father Jacob Engstrand (Dustin Smith) is also embedded with shadows and deceit.

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Chris Shroff plays Oswald, left, and Caitlin Grammer plays Mrs. Alving in “Ghosts.”

Helen’s son Oswald (Chris Shroff) rounds out the ensemble. Recently returned from Paris, where he was sent as a child, he is the living embodiment of Captain Alving.

As Mrs. Alving’s carefully constructed façade unravels, the truth offers a freedom and a reconnection with Oswald that is bittersweet.

Chloe Sullivan’s direction is deft as she allows the ensemble pick apart the seams of Helen’s story. The play is a slender 90 minutes, but the action does not feel forced. The cast clearly understands their characters, especially Shroff, whose careless charm barely conceals Oswald’s inner anguish.

Sullivan also allows for some moments of humor, mostly at Manders’ expense as his moral hypocrisy is torn apart.

But are any of the characters’ motives pure? Each carries a secret that haunts them, and these ghosts.

Ibsen’s play was written in 1881 and first performed in Chicago in 1882 by a Danish touring troupe.

Theater critic Maurice Valency wrote in 1963, “From the standpoint of modern tragedy “Ghosts” strikes off in a new direction…. Regular tragedy dealt mainly with the unhappy consequences of breaking the moral code. “Ghosts,” on the contrary, deals with the consequences of not breaking it.”

More than 130 years later, “Ghosts” themes are still relevant. Lies will build on lies until they undermine the foundation of reality. We choose to live with ghosts, but the fear is not of them, but that they will be discovered.

Lamar’s production is nothing to be afraid of.

Show times are 7:30 p.m., Nov. 8-11, and 2 p.m., Nov. 12, in University Theatre. Tickets are available at http://www.lamar.edu/theatre.

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