HAUNTED MASTERS by Gene Franklin Smith, directed by Patrick Conner, with Jacklyn Francis, Soo Garay, Stephen Sparks and Craig Stanghetta. Presented by Troubled Souls at Spadina Museum (285 Spadina Road). Runs to November 6, Thursday-Saturday and October 31 at 8 pm. $25, $40 on Halloween with buffet. 647-436-1519. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Think of haunted masters as an early Hollywood treat, though one with a little bit of misguided trickery. The sweet element of this quartet of four ghost stories adapted from well-known writers is the atmospheric staging in Spadina Museum. The sometimes problematic side are the adaptations by Gene Franklin Smith .
Smith has dramatized little-known pieces by Henry James , D.H. Lawrence , Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens , all involving love triangles and ghosts - often vengeful ones - who return to disturb the living.
Great idea, but some of the pieces don't take well to the stage. In the James story, The Friends Of The Friends , a woman whose motives are decidedly mixed tries to be a matchmaker between her ex-fiance and another woman. The dialogue, though, isn't very theatrical, nor does the narrative device that Smith uses succeed.
There are different problems, mostly of a melodramatic nature, in Wharton's Il Canile, in which a pack of merciless demon dogs protect their mistress from her jealous husband, while the comic bits in Dickens's The Bride's Chamber fall flat.
The best adaptation as well as the best production is Lawrence's The Border Line , set during and after the first world war mostly in England and Germany. The title refers not only to geographic but also to psychological and physical boundaries. There's a real sexual and emotional tension - all four tales are, after all, love stories - involving a German woman ( Soo Garay ) who loves one Englishman ( Stephen Sparks ) but weds another ( Craig Stanghetta ). The first won't let her go, even after death, and she herself is ambivalent about her affections. The cast and director Patrick Conner skilfully handle the circular work's time shifts and knotty, unsettling resolution.
Conner makes fine use of the Spadina locale, from an opening view of eerie silhouettes to evocative lighting and shadowplay in the various tales. Each piece has a distinct tone in its staging, helped by illumination that's little more than candles, some focused household lamps and flashlights.
The sombre-dressed actors do some fine work, notably in the Lawrence, while other standouts are Garay's hemmed-in, nervous society woman in the James and Jacklyn Francis , who suggests in Wharton's lonely wife a rich mini-drama through her subtle character changes.
Each tale, in some fashion, delivers an intended chill, and the intimacy of the setting encourages us to shiver a bit. And don't be surprised if during the evening you suddenly see a young girl out of the corner of your eye - apparently she's the resident ghost.