Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ghost Light: Good Luck Staging Macbeth

Shakespeare never gets the credit he deserves for being a writer of the macabre. Hamlet has ghosts and graveyards, while Richard III is all about a psychotic hunchback. The best example is probably Macbeth, with its witches and curses. Of course, we are supposed to call it “The Scottish Play” because of actors’ superstitions. Remember how they refuse to say the “M word” the next time an actor lectures you on “science.” Nevertheless, when somebody tempts fate by uttering the unutterable, it leads to a lot of supernatural trouble. On the plus side, the amateurish summer stock troupe’s performances improve tremendously in John Stimpson’s Ghost Light, which releases today on DVD.

Henry Asquith’s company has come to mount the Big Mac play in a picturesque country playhouse. During the intense week of rehearsals, they will stay in the comfy farm house adjoining the converted-barn theater. Hammy Alex Pankhurst will be playing Macbeth thanks to his deep pockets. Brooding Thomas Ingram will be playing Banquo, even though he believes he should have the title role, by virtue of his superior talent. Liz Beth Stevens does not disagree with Ingram, whom she is seeing on the sly, behind the pompous Pankhurst’s oblivious back.

Disgusted by it all, Ingram and Stevens invoke the dreaded name and the cursed play responds. Soon, they find themselves in positions very much like those in the play. However, their rapport is threatened by the arrival of a mysterious backpacking yoga tourist, who agrees to take on the part of “Second Witch.” Then accidents start happening.

Ghost Light is a low-key supernatural comedy that is small in scope, but still rather pleasant to watch. It features a game cast, all of whom seem to enjoy the larkiness of it all, especially Cary Elwes, who absolutely gorges on the scenery as Pankhurst. Arguably, Elwes doesn’t get the horror cred he deserves either, even though he was in several dozen Saw movies and had recurring roles on Stranger Things and The X-Files.

Be that as it may, Roger Bart scores most of the film’s laughs as Asquith, who manages to be both indulgent of his actors, but still bitingly sarcastic. Tom Riley (Leonardo in Da Vinci’s Demons) and Shannyn Sossamon go all in as the Macbeth-tormented lover-thesps, while Carol Kane acts like Carol Kane, as Madeline Styne, as “The First Witch.”

There are some clever bits in Ghost Light, but Stimpson and co-screenwriter Geoffrey Taylor are more interested in Noises Off-style back-stage gags than really delving into the Bard’s creepy side. One wonders what Liam Gavin and the team behind A Dark Song might have done with this premise. Still, Stimpson & Taylor deserve credit for originality. Recommended as an appealing palate-cleanser for horror fans, Ghost Light releases today on DVD and VOD.