It is a tale told by several idiots, full of jokes and laughter, signifying nothing … but fun.
That’s the basic description of Ghost Light, anyway, a good-humored black comedy featuring a lot of eccentric characters, a few good performers and several premature deaths. Think Knives Out meets the Bard.
The idea has a group of actors taking over a New England resort to put on a play – except for these summer-stock survivors, now is the winter of their discontent.
The director is frazzled, the leading man has nothing go for him except his willingness to bankroll the production, and the rest of the cast is either too young to know what they’re doing or too old to care.
It’s not a recipe for success. And then someone dares break an old theatrical taboo by saying their production’s famous title – “Macbeth” – out loud. (Superstitious thespians only refer to it among themselves as “the Scottish play,” lest the production be cursed.)
And before you can “bubble, bubble” they’re all in for trouble – with near-fatal accidents, spooky hauntings and death just waiting in the wings.
Ghost Light has the same problem as a lot of modern comedies – it’s just not quite funny enough, going for smiles when it could have pushed for a belly laugh. A little tweaking might have turned some of these brief scenes into real sequences. (As the stage hit The Play That Goes Wrong proved, bad drama can create a lot of great comedy.)
But there are some nice touches, like having two ambitious members of the company mirroring the Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth’s own evil motives. Or going against cliché, by having the young actors already weary and jaded, and the old ones still in love with the thea-tuh.
And the few veterans among its cast add lots of fun. Like Broadway mainstay Roger Bart, as the troupe’s put-upon director. Or Cary Elwes as the rich, vain and utterly talentless star (whose wife is busy co-starring off-stage with his young rival).
Also delightful is Carol Kane, who once shared scenes with Elwes in The Princess Bride and now plays this acting company’s grande dame, whose resume is a lot longer than her memory, and no longer needs quite so much makeup to play one of the play’s aged witches.
Perhaps saying “Macbeth” aloud did bring a sort of curse, at least on this film; although it was popular on the festival circuit a few years back, it’s only now appearing on streaming services. Don’t let that scare you off, though. Approach it in the right mood, and Ghost Light will leave you in high spirits.