I had the tendency to dismiss “Ghost of a Chance” as another of the plays which are perfect for the dinner theatre crowd, but unworthy of my serious consideration as a deep, or meaningful play. This script, presented by Wapakoneta Theatre Guild, needed to convince me that it had the legs to belong somewhere that didn’t serve dinner, first.
I know several members of this cast, as well as director Chris Butturff, so I should have been prepared for a good performance. But I was a bit skeptical, considering the low marquee value of the title, and its authors Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus. What ended up happening was the story and its tight cast grabbing my interest, and holding it fiercely, for two hours plus.
The story of this play revolves around a woman, Bethany, whose husband has died in a “buck” murder three years before at a rustic cabin. She has found someone new to love, a wimpy dentist, Floyd, and has come back to the cabin to sell it, prior to the couple’s wedding. The dentist and his mother have accompanied our heroine Bethany and are full of plans. But something is very wrong. Bethany’s deceased husband, Chance, appears as a ghost who does not realize he’s dead at first. He can only be seen by Bethany. Floyd and Verna think Bethany has lost her mind. Chance has decided he can still stay on the earth and can reclaim his woman. A battle ensues, between the gentle, unassuming dentist and the tough, woodsman, Chance. Along the way, Bethany hires a paranormal/ghost whisperer, to convince Chance to go toward the light, and out of her life. Add in a demented accountant, who wants to buy the place because of a fortune he thinks Chance has left there. It all leads to some very interesting, and finally gut-wrenching scenarios.
Yes, this sounds implausible, but much of theatre does. As you suspend your disbelief and enter into Bethany’s spiraling world, you want all the major characters to succeed. Except for Verna. We like Bethany immediately, and Verna obviously does not. So she is maddeningly in opposition to the success of the three leads. Their efforts continue to lead to failure. These failures are many, and this leads to the most delicious conflict.
I would like to give you some glowing reviews about the standout characters, but there are no real standouts. The cast has no weak spots. Every actor is a big contributor. I mentioned, afterward, that this was perhaps the strongest cast I had seen at WTG. I was seriously impressed with all. This speaks volumes for director Butturff who enticed these folks to appear. It is long been my contention that the director’s most important task is getting the best people to his audition, and making sure they are cast in parts that fit them. In this case, Butturff was a masterful director.
Bethany was portrayed by Camri Nelson, an extremely likable actress, someone who does not list a lot of experience, but did not show a great deal of discomfort or nervousness on stage. In fact, she had great chemistry with Josh Ellerbrock (Floyd). She also had some very nice chemistry with Alex Blubaugh (Chance). This says a lot for Ms. Nelson’s ability to relate. This is also true of the two men who worked in rhythm with their female co-star. I have not seen Mr. Ellerbrock in a role as demanding and against type before. I have seen him do other difficult characters superbly, so I should not be surprised at his excellence, here. Mr. Blubaugh impressed me with his work in “Baskerville” at Lima’s Encore Theatre. I have to admit, I was equally entranced by his on-target, low-key Chance.
Peg Matheny, played Verna, Floyd’s mom, and constant pain-in-the-backside. She needed to be annoying as all get-out, and she, by-god was. Each time she reappeared, I wondered what new hell she would bring with her. A fine interpretation. Out ghost chaser, Crystal, theatre vet Molly Brown, was a serious and sometimes pitiable character. Brown had the range for all of it. I have seen this fine actress grow from a young girl, getting a lot of experience at Encore’s Youth Theatre. She has a big future ahead of her.
Lastly, and hilariously, the crazy accountant, Adam, was brought to us by Mike Gegel, a long-time Wapak resident. At first, I was not liking either the character, or what Gegel was limited to in his portrayal, but I was pleasantly surprised by the transformation of Adam, from Nervous Nellie to full-blown psychotic. Nice touch by Gegel and our two playwrights.
I would love to recommend this show to you. I was knocked out, and you would be too, but, alas, the run is over. But not before WTG has reasserted its claim to a terrific theatre in Northwest Ohio. I am glad I took the time to go. And I thoroughly enjoyed repeating my praise to cast and crew before I left.