Synopsis: A group of actors sneak into a theater overnight to see if they can experience any of the alleged ghost sightings.
Stars: Muriel J. Bonertz, Dawn Brodey, James Detmar, Amy Shomshak, Joel Raney, Kelli Gorr, Dietrich Poppen, Dianne Hines, Jon Schumacher
Director: John Gaspard
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Were you to hang around a theater after the audience has left and the actors and technical staff have locked up for the night, you’d most likely find one lamp gleaming from center stage. A long-held theatrical tradition, some say it’s left on to scare the ghosts away, or it could be that it’s there to give a theater ghost (every theater has at least one) the chance to play their favorite scene again and again.
I enjoyed Ghost Light more than I expected to. Maybe it’s because I know several of the people featured in this nicely crafted tale, maybe it’s because I know the location where it was filmed, maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the spooky tales of ghosts that haunt theaters, or maybe it’s because Ghost Light is just that rare breed of locally grown independent film that unspools with a welcome purpose.
Director John Gaspard wisely steers clear from making his Ghost Light a scary experience and instead lets the script he wrote with Mary Kaeding focus on the cast of a play as they decide to spend the night in their theater to see if the stories of lingering ghosts prove true. A few comically disgruntled backstage crew members get wind of this and follow the actors back to the theater in an attempt to get some benign revenge.
Though it can feel stagey given the episodic structure and stagnant camera work, Gaspard counters this by filling the frame with appealing performances, interesting lighting, diverse camera angles, and finely tuned edits that give the impression the camera is moving. I actually didn’t notice it wasn’t until the director pointed this out in a post-show discussion.
A fine cast of performers is assembled with Jon Schumacher and Dianne Hines emerging as standouts. Schumacher shares a poignant scene with Hines that starts as a discussion of Scrabble and ends with the kind of happy emotional payoff most Hollywood movies get wrong. Hines, too, takes what could have been a role that came off bitter and instead colors it with a sage wisdom that life experience brings. I also enjoyed the comic pratfalls of ditzy stage hand Kelli Gorr and the sweet costume shop courtship of Amy Shomshak and Scott Keely.
Filming at Theatre in the Round, Gaspard uses his knowledge of the space to lovingly document every nook and cranny of the famed theater where so many local actors got their start and continue to return to. The theater is not too small and not too big and Gaspard has an uncanny knack for setting scenes in the right places.
An enjoyably well-put together film, Ghost Light is very much worth seeking out (it’s playing at the Edina Film Festival in November). Though its pretense may suggest a spooky ghost tale, this is a delicate, well-observed drama that has its heart, mind, and earthly spirit in the right place.