Ghost Light

Doing this show was a whirlwind incredible experience. I consider myself, for the most part, retired from show business and now only pursue acting for the love of the art and the joy of practicing. I only occasionally look at casting call websites and am not interested in 95% of what I find there. But this particular notice for Ghost Light caught my eye for many reasons.

Tod Rainey's ad introduced him as an award winning theater artist from NYC who had worked with Alan Menkin and Public Enemy and on the Sleep No More project. He didn't describe the Ghost Light script except to say that he was interested in doing an immersive thing similar to Sleep No More. If you don't know what Sleep No More is, I urge you to look into it as it was one of the most memorable evenings I have ever spent immersed in a theatrical production. So I put together a monologue really quickly and went to go meet Tod.

Tod's energy was distinctly "New York"and I felt a connection right away as I did leave a big part of my heart in the big apple. He liked my monologue and gave me a piece of the script to read. His comment afterward was "you're the real deal" and he told me that the role of Max, which I had read for, was already cast, but that he's working on something and will get back to me.
Tod giving Jag a thumbs up
I was invited to join the project and at the first read through of the script, I was listed as "Gabriel". But Tod explained that the "Max" he had cast was not able to commit, so he asked me to read the part of Max and someone else was to read the Gabriel part. That person also eventually dropped out of the cast and the wonderful Danny Willis was brought in later to play Gabriel. I read for Max that day and never looked back.
Danny Willis as "Gabriel"
Tod hadn't shared the script before the first read-through. We all read it cold. So I had no idea what the story was or what the parts were. I saw that the script described Max as being a washed up vaudevillian who thought he was playing Lear on Broadway, and Tod told us that he wanted it 'big and broad like Looney Tunes'. So I didn't hold back.
"Max Wraith"
After that first read-through, I still did not understand the script. I rode the elevator with the guy cast as "William" and we both scratched our heads trying to make sense of it. I was excited by what my intuition told me about the script but he seemed disappointed by it's esoteric existentialism. That guy did eventually end up leaving the cast and the role of William was recast twice before we finally found the brilliant Liam Schlosser.

The deeper I got into understanding the script, the darker it felt. It is literally dreadful, and not in a bad way, but extremely sad and with a desperate fear and suffering. I went to such a dark place to play this character and made the choice that I was disconnected with my family. It is a challenge, as an actor, to stay connected with the other actors while playing a character who is disconnected from and ignoring the other characters. Luckily the ensemble playing Max's family are all very strong and talented and I found I was able to connect as much as I needed to with Shauntal Pyper, Kaitlyn Lunardi and Reid Watson while playing that I was completely oblivious to them.
l. to r. Watson as "Ryan", Borràs as "Ashlin", Pyper as "Catherine", Lunardi as "Molly", Jag as "Max"
Throughout the play, the only characters that Max got to connect with were his accountant and company clown, William, and his mistress, Ashlin. The latter played by a Spanish neophyte actress in her first show. I was amazed at how Angels Ratés Borràs had only learned the English language less than five years earlier and was now expertly playing a complex role. Her accent was adorable, but also, I had a great time giving her tips when her pronunciation made it hard to understand what she was saying. Connecting with her in our one scene together was one of my only moments of solace as Max, even though she ended up breaking my heart by the end of the scene.
Angel Ratés Borràs as "Ashlin"
But the highlight of the show for me was a scene I played with Liam as William the Clown. We did a bit where I teach William how to do a vaudevillian type comedy sketch called the Tipsy Teapot. It was a short scene, but it was always such a relief in the midst of such a brooding show to get to literally play with another gifted comedic actor.
Liam Schlosser as "William"
We had a two week run at the Annex Theater and the audience response was understandable mixed. As I said, it is not a light-hearted romp, nor is it necessarily easy to grasp the first time through. But it is a spectacular and meaningful show with some very smart messages, some deeply touching moments and some good laughs all the way through. I can totally understand why someone would be so disturbed by the show as to not come back for the second act, and I can equally understand someone being so enthralled by the show as to want to see the whole thing over again. One friend who came to see the show was literally sobbing afterward and I held her as we talked about how deeply the show spoke to her.

After it was all over, I describe the experience of playing Max in Ghost Light with the analogy of getting my sleeve caught in a passing train. I had no idea what I was getting involved in, and was swept up and running wildly for three months.

Once it was over, I was emotionally thrashed and I could have crashed for several days. It was cathartic to cut off all my hair and to help load the whole show out of the theater and into a van and drive it to a storage facility to put it away. Also I was rescued by getting a timely call the day after Ghost Light closed inviting me to read for a part in It's A Wonderful Life.

There is talk of a continued life for Ghost Light. We are now in discussion about taking a pacific northwest tour in spring of 2019, and then taking it to New York for a short run in Sept 2019.
Tod Rainey directing the cast of Ghost Light at Annex Theater, Sept 2018

I'd love to do both of those things, but I'm not holding my breath. We'll see how it shakes out. For now, I'm happy to have had the experience of originating the role of Max, who will probably go down as one of my top five favorite created characters.
ALL PHOTOS:
Annabel Clark Photography

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