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'Ghost Sonata' howling fun time

By Brandon Stachnik
On November 5, 2013

A compelling performance on stage is often the backbone of what makes a captivating play. 

While "The Ghost Sonata" promised to dazzle the audience with spooky technical effects, the actors are what really brought the play to life.

Swedish playwright August Strindberg wrote the original play in 1907. Written with only three acts, the performance is described as a "chamber play," meaning it can be performed with a small amount of actors and incorporate little to no sets or costumes. 

As a result, it feels as though all the senses in your body have been turned down except for your sight and hearing. 

Now, the acting and set lighting are amplified and it's up to the raw performance of the characters to make the show. 

One of the main characters first introduced in the play is a Swedish student by the name of Arkenholz, played by Sonoma's State own Connor Pratt. 

The student is not well off, but has aspirations of higher living. He is soon introduced to the second main character that later is revealed as the antagonist of the story, Jacob Hummel (played by David O'Connell). 

Hummel is a wheelchair ridden old man who meets Arkenholz in front of an upscale apartment building one night in Stockholm. 

Arkenholz is first approached by the crippled man shortly after he pleads for a drink from a ghost-like milkmaid (played by Carmella Nohai). 

Hummel begins to speak with him, and Arkenholz soon finds out Hummel knows him and his family, and would like to help him become wealthy. 

The only request Hummel asks for in turn is to be aided while in his chair. At this point the audience learns Arkenholz's character can be optimistic but naïve, for he accepts Hummel's offer despite the questionable credibility of this stranger. 

His first task on his road to wealth is to attend the opera and later return for a dinner party.

Before leaving for the night's festivities, Arkenholz meets Hummel's servant, Johansson (played by Tom Ward). 

The servant has a menacing appearance as he is dressed in a tarnished suit with a black masquerade mask. 

The two converse about the mysterious Jacob Hummel and Arkenholz is warned to be wary of Hummel's intentions. 

Arkenholz attends the prestigious dinner that is held at the same apartment he met his partner in front of earlier that day. 

This is where the rest of the cast is formally introduced, as they are all members of the household. 

The head of the house is known as the Colonel (played by Charles Baker). The fiancé of the colonel also happened to be formally engaged to Hummel. 

She appears as a half-insane, white-haired ghastly woman (the Mummy) who is brilliantly played by Cascandra Slagle. Their daughter (played by Anya Cherniss) is a pretty and innocent character, traits that draw-in Arkenholz

The setting of the household is a dreadful one. It seems as though everyone in attendance is miserable and ailing. That is, until Hummel arrives and reveals the true intentions of his arrangement. 

Hummel mentions to the Colonel that everything the he possesses theoretically belongs to him. 

He ridicules the family for how they have been living and earning their wealth. This stirs up the fiancé intensely and she shrieks in anger towards Hummel. 

Soon, after a dramatic act filled with banter, a plot-twist takes place and Hummel is hung in the fireplace. 

Many of the characters in this rendition of "The Ghost Sonata" were costumed in vintage dress-wear, adorned with rips, stains and dust. 

This gave the appearance of a group of characters that have been suffering for so long they are practically the living dead. 

The use of strobe lights and black lights helped create a nightmarish setting, but the effects were ultimately lacking. 

This did not, however, affect the overall outcome of the play, for the performances by the actors of Sonoma State University's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance took center stage. 

The production is continuing from Nov. 6-9. Buy your tickets at the box office or at http://www.sonoma.edu/theatreanddance/productions/ghost.


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