Photo: Jonathan Keenan
Sometimes ambiguity adds suspense and atmosphere to a production. Sometimes it is just confusing. At the beginning of Edna O'Brien's Haunted, part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59e59, two women are barely visible behind a translucent wall. As an old man implores, "Stay, stay," the lighting changes and the women vanish. Add this opening to the title Haunted, and it is reasonable to expect a ghost story. However, the production never clarifies whether we are seeing ghosts, flashbacks, or a dramatization of the old man's probably unreliable memories. Rather than adding to the play's impact, this ambiguity diffuses it, pulling focus from the story at hand, which is somewhat interesting: the old man starts a platonic relationship with a young woman, allowing her to believe that his wife is dead. His wife, already unhappy with his sexual coldness and his past adultery, becomes suspicious and eventually incensed. But the relationships aren't quite convincing. For example, although the young woman is lonely, and the old man flatters her, it is still difficult to believe she would befriend him, as his urbanity and almost charm provide only a fragile veneer over his pathetic lechery. As played by Brenda Blethyn and Niall Buggy, the husband and wife come across as more compelling than the writing might warrant, though Beth Cooke fares less well as the young woman. The play's main strength is its use of language, which is often beautiful and frequently quotes great writers, particularly Shakespeare.