Sex scandals, double standards drive themes in ‘Ghosts’

Staging a theatrical production is an arduous task that involves hard work by the director, design team and actors. When a play is adapted or translated — the case in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s new play, “Ghosts” — that’s another step in the process that can take months or years to complete.

Anne-Charlotte Harvey, born and educated in Sweden, is a translator/dramaturg who specializes in Ibsen and Strindberg plays and who served as the translator for “Ghosts.” The play was written in 1881 by Henrik Ibsen, considered the father of modern drama. Ibsen wrote “Ghosts” as a scathing commentary on 19th century morality.

“One of the issues it tackles is the double standard between men and women,” Harvey said. “Men at those times were allowed to play around and get wild, while a woman could not even drink too much. There are also issues about opposite sexes living together, maybe just for financial reasons, without being married.”

Harvey is a member the Ibsen and August Strindberg societies and a member of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of America. She has many Broadway and other theater credits for her translations. She is a professor emeritus of theater at SDSU. The translation process she used for “Ghosts” was extraordinary.

“For the cast and production, I did a platform translation, which is different from a literal transition,” Harvey said. “I had to translate idioms, thoughts, subtexts and the cultural context.”

What Harvey does that’s different is she provides a very long rendering of the original into English. She feels it’s important to keep many doors open so the thousands of possible choices can be made by the director and actors as they work on the play.

“There are decisions to be made throughout the adaptation,” Harvey said. “Like the question of tone: Is this line funny or not? I write footnotes explaining circumstances, for example — in this scene, they are very formal with each other, or here he is very personal with her. The text ends up about the size of a phonebook, and then the director, actors and I sit and go through the entire text so the actors can create their own choice of delivery.”

David Ellenstein, North Coast Rep’s artistic director and director of “Ghosts,” and Harvey agree that the play’s controversial themes resonate today. America still sees discrepancies in the workplace over the dissimilarity between males and females, and morality issues in 2010 seem to have reached a feverish peak with the country captivated by media headlines screaming about infidelities.

Ellenstein called “Ghosts” a theatrical event to be remembered, and Harvey concurs.

“The cast is wonderful, and the show is really fun,” she said. “What I like about Ibsen’s plays is that he tells a story that is not trendy and raises issues, but with a great sense of humor. But what’s fantastic (here) is David’s willingness to take some chances and get the actors involved in the story process. Patrons will enjoy some stellar scenes and very fine performances.”


  • When: Through May 2
  • Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
  • Tickets: $30-$47; (858) 481-1055,