An old English actor purportedly said on his death bed, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
This quote came to mind when watching “Ghost Light,” a spooky little comedy that mixes quirky actors and Shakespearean tragedy with decidedly mixed results.
The strength of this movie comes from its cast, which is playing another cast of touring summer-stock actors performing “Macbeth” in the backwoods of North America.
The lead role is played by hammy soap-opera star Alex (Cary Elwes, having lots of fun giving “bad” performances). Surly castmate Thomas (Tom Riley) who is as talented as he is bitter, thinks he should be playing the lead role.
He is encouraged in this ambition by Alex’s wife Liz (Shannyn Sossman) with whom he is having an affair. Naturally, Liz is playing Lady Macbeth and you don’t have to be an English major to see the parallels between the play and “real life.”
One of the longest standing superstitions in the theater right behind leg breaking is the play “Macbeth” is cursed and many honest to goodness actors believe that ill fortune will reign down upon you if you say the name of the play in the theater (outside of the actual performance). This is so true many actors will only refer to “Macbeth” as “The Scottish Play.”
In “Ghost Light,” Thomas and Liz tempt fate by shouting the name of the play at the height of frustration at the prospect of another clunky performance by Alex.
Strange things begin to happen as the rest of the cast, including veterans Elliot (Steve Tom) and Madeline (the great Carol Kane), start to suspect something wicked this way comes.
Trying to keep the oddball and egocentric cast together amongst supernatural goings on is the exasperated director Henry (Roger Bart).
The story doesn’t have much weight to it and isn’t particularly scary or funny, which leaves the plot stuck in cinematic purgatory. Fortunately, the cast is so talented they are able to at least make the proceedings interesting while wringing a few laughs out of their characters’ foibles (Elwes, in particular, such as in a scene where he is unable to resist the temptation of touching a “phantom” dagger that haunts Macbeth in the play).
“Ghost Light” is enjoyable enough to be enjoyed by fans of Shakespeare (there are some clever nods to The Bard here) or those who have spent time in the trenches of community theater. As for the rest of us, the movie is nothing more than a slight, inoffensive flicker.
“Ghost Light” is not rated, but includes mild language, some violence and disturbing images and brief nudity.