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Ghost play

The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding at San Diego Rep

Ron Campbell in The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding
Ron Campbell in The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding

In a solo performance, Ron Campbell plays numerous guests at a wedding reception, plus all the characters in The Dybbuk: or Between Two Worlds, S. Ansky’s “realistic play about mystical people.” The task requires a tour de force. But the demands of the often herky-jerky script run counter to the presentation. Hannah and Sam’s Wedding would be better served if it concentrated more on the basic story and less on the tour de force.

A dybbuk is the restless, sometimes evil spirit of someone who died. Due to unfinished business in this world, the spirit can’t cross over to the other side and must inhabit a living being to complete its tasks. The word comes from the Hebrew “to cling.” For a limited period of time, the possessed suffer mental illness.

The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding

Anksy tells one of the most compelling stories in literature. It takes place in a small Jewish shtetl in Poland. Khonnon, a brilliant student, has fallen for Leah; to win her, he fasts and meditates and becomes involved in cabalistic studies (which “raises man to the most exalted holiness”). But her father, Reb Sender, chooses another man for her. Khonnon dies, distraught, but comes back as a dybbuk and inhabits Leah. Madness and exorcisms ensue.

For the Rep, Giulio Perrone turns the Lyceum Space into a wedding reception at a country club: below a raised stage lie tables decorated with pink roses, a pile of gifts (the white boxes from Crate & Barrel). There’s a guest book to sign, champagne for sipping. The Rep could host a real reception here without changing a thing.

Todd Salovey wrote the script with a deep understanding of — and an obvious fondness for — the story. He grafts a second tale onto the first. His red bow-tie unloosed and hair unkempt, Uncle Jerry interrupts the reception. First he’s just a tipsy relative, everybody’s crazy uncle. Then, like the Ancient Mariner, he delivers a cautionary tale for the bride and groom about the deadly seriousness of vows. And he’s the guilt-wracked target.

Along with this double weaving, the script adds entertainment breaks for comic relief: interplay with the audience, dancing with an audience member (to the rich klezmer strains of Yale Strom, Mark Danisovsky, and Tim McNalley), and singalongs.

Talented Ron Campbell played R. Buckminster Fuller in Douglas Jacobs’s The History (and Mystery) of the Universe. Here he performs like an antsy dybbuk, inhabiting at least 20 characters, diving in and out with just a turned head or scarf. Each is distinctive. But the blurs of changes become a lot to take in on short notice — and distract from the main thread.

When the dybbuk finally confesses, Campbell delivers all the emotional goods.

Playing through December 18

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Ron Campbell in The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding
Ron Campbell in The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding

In a solo performance, Ron Campbell plays numerous guests at a wedding reception, plus all the characters in The Dybbuk: or Between Two Worlds, S. Ansky’s “realistic play about mystical people.” The task requires a tour de force. But the demands of the often herky-jerky script run counter to the presentation. Hannah and Sam’s Wedding would be better served if it concentrated more on the basic story and less on the tour de force.

A dybbuk is the restless, sometimes evil spirit of someone who died. Due to unfinished business in this world, the spirit can’t cross over to the other side and must inhabit a living being to complete its tasks. The word comes from the Hebrew “to cling.” For a limited period of time, the possessed suffer mental illness.

The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding

Anksy tells one of the most compelling stories in literature. It takes place in a small Jewish shtetl in Poland. Khonnon, a brilliant student, has fallen for Leah; to win her, he fasts and meditates and becomes involved in cabalistic studies (which “raises man to the most exalted holiness”). But her father, Reb Sender, chooses another man for her. Khonnon dies, distraught, but comes back as a dybbuk and inhabits Leah. Madness and exorcisms ensue.

For the Rep, Giulio Perrone turns the Lyceum Space into a wedding reception at a country club: below a raised stage lie tables decorated with pink roses, a pile of gifts (the white boxes from Crate & Barrel). There’s a guest book to sign, champagne for sipping. The Rep could host a real reception here without changing a thing.

Todd Salovey wrote the script with a deep understanding of — and an obvious fondness for — the story. He grafts a second tale onto the first. His red bow-tie unloosed and hair unkempt, Uncle Jerry interrupts the reception. First he’s just a tipsy relative, everybody’s crazy uncle. Then, like the Ancient Mariner, he delivers a cautionary tale for the bride and groom about the deadly seriousness of vows. And he’s the guilt-wracked target.

Along with this double weaving, the script adds entertainment breaks for comic relief: interplay with the audience, dancing with an audience member (to the rich klezmer strains of Yale Strom, Mark Danisovsky, and Tim McNalley), and singalongs.

Talented Ron Campbell played R. Buckminster Fuller in Douglas Jacobs’s The History (and Mystery) of the Universe. Here he performs like an antsy dybbuk, inhabiting at least 20 characters, diving in and out with just a turned head or scarf. Each is distinctive. But the blurs of changes become a lot to take in on short notice — and distract from the main thread.

When the dybbuk finally confesses, Campbell delivers all the emotional goods.

Playing through December 18

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