Ghost in the Machine
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 14, 2011
Mike Leon's first professionally produced play, Ghost in the Machine, is currently debuting at Theater for the New City. It is loaded with evidence of talent. It tells the story of James, a young man whose girlfriend, Rachel, recently died. James has spent his time since her death living in a kind of limbo, surrounding himself with memories of Rachel and visited frequently by her spirit. One of the interesting notions in Leon's script is that the preponderance of digital memories at our fingertips nowadays threatens to swamp elusive "real" memories: James is literally drowning in evidences of the past, including hundreds of voice mails, audio tapes, photos, and DVDs.
Ghost in the Machine juggles a couple of different key thematic ideas, which proves problematic (just one might have been more effective). Much of the play explores James and Rachel's odd relationship following her death, climaxing in a truly fascinating and potentially chilling conceit in which James imagines that Rachel has left him for another man rather than for another world; I would have liked to see that played out further than it is here.
The other climactic scene involves James and his brother Eddie, who has come to James's cluttered apartment to attempt an intervention. This scene provides the most stirring action in the play and made me curious to know more about the brothers' relationship and history.
The play is directed by Nathaniel Basch-Gould who, like Leon and most of the collaborators involved in this project, is a very recent graduate of Williams College. The pacing seems like it's a lot slower than it needs to be. Kate Sinclair Foster's busy set effectively integrates the dreamscape within James's mind and the reality of his apartment, but Nick Houfek's lighting feels portentous in places. Peter Drivas—on stage for virtually the entire play, including intermission—gives an intense and deeply felt performance as James. His chemistry with Ryan Pavano (Eddie) is fine, and Pavano really clicks in his second act confrontation scene. But Aspen Lee Jordan's Rachel never really sparks with Drivas's James; Leon may let his actors down here, never really giving them a beautiful purely happy moment together where we can clearly see what James has lost. Eli M. Bronfman completes the ensemble in the cameo role of Brent.
As I said, I'm impressed by Mike Leon's writing and look forward to experiencing more of it in the future.