Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Barbara Kahn's dark comedy WHERE DO ALL THE GHOSTS GO? Theater for the New City

WHERE DO ALL THE GHOSTS GOTheater for the New City (Written and directed by Barbara Kahn, ) opens with a rapier thrust by Sarah Bernhardt (Steph Van Vlack). a ghost in Napoleonic drag. She thinks herself condemned to solitude in the derelict hotel, until Marcel Duchamp with his transparent chessboard shows up. Played with droll astringency by David Leeper, his verbal provocations are interrupted by fellow ghouls Elizabeth Keckley, a  demure companion to Mary Todd Lincoln (Chloe Simone Crawford). Then Buffalo Bill Cody (Christopher Lowe) crashes into the room. When Duchamp purposes chess, you get that he and Cody may have been playing an infinite game. When the Baroness (Sarah Teed) floats through the room and Duchamp dramatically calls her a thief, it's but a ripple in her trajectory through time with a bright scarf.

It is a scarf, ostensibly lost, that brings Jos (Ashley Versher) and her wife, Frankie (Fleur Voorn) to return to the derelict hotel. A novelist who writes ghost stories, Jos is stuck on Chapter three. Is the scarf an excuse for something else missing?  Objectives, ghostly or human, are part of the vague atmosphere of the room, a former therapist's office  (kudos to Mark Marcante for lights and set).  Jos is able to see and hear the ghosts. Frankie, a scientist, is less than comfortable that Jo is talking with invisible people. Creeped out, she leaves and Jos quizzes the ghosts about what humans expect from ghosts. She also takes on the therapist's role listening to the indignities suffered by once famous beings now lonely and unrecognized.

All have connections to the hotel and their histories play a major role in this play. Haunted by past misfortunes and pleasures, creative work and major challenges, they navigate the halls of times past. Keckley, an African American, was seamstress and companion to Mary Lincoln, experiencing racism in accommodations and proud of how she faced it. Buffalo Bill, who employed American Indians, eternally mourns the death of Sitting Bull. Bernhardt, baptized Catholic, faced 19th century anti-semitism, after she acknowledged her heritage during the Dreyfus case. Duchamp pioneered a drag persona as a creation, declared toilets sculpture and exiled himself to Chess' pure abstraction.

The unearthly ringing of a telephone (Alexander Graham Bell's experiment), warns the ghosts of life outside and the imminent destruction of their home. Their  fears intensify, affecting the lights and Jos fears she will be plunged into darkness. When Frankie appears with her Ipad,  the living and the dead unite to find the ghosts' final resting places. In the process,the ghosts acknowledge the lesbian couple as social pioneers and lovers. In the light of Apple technology,will humans and ghosts outpace the wrecking ball?

Barbara Kahn calls this a dark comedy but it's "Topper" friendly, a valentine for souls lost and found. Kahn was inspired to write Where do all the Ghosts Go? after hearing about plans to demolish the St. Denis, a 165-year old building at the corner of East 11th St. and Broadway, south of Union Square. She has won numerous awards, including the Torch of Hope, the Robert Chesley Playwriting Award and the 2017 Acker Award for her work in downtown theater.

Kahn's historical plays include Verzet Amsterdam, The Three-Mile Limit, Ghost Light now and Then, Women of the Wind, Island Girls  and many more. Look for her next wise comedy.

. S.W.

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