Inside “GHOSTS & zombies” Part 1: Ibsen

Inside “GHOSTS & zombies” Part 1: Ibsen

Pictured: Micah Kronlokken in a publicity image for Akvavit Theatre’s production of GHOSTS & zombies. Photo by Karl Clifton-Soderstrom.

In this 4-part series, PerformInk takes you inside Akvavit Theatre’s “GHOSTS & zombies” through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past INSIDE articles, click here.

By Translator Chad Eric Bergman

Twenty-two years ago I directed Ibsen’s GHOSTS and at the time I was struck by how relevant and topical the play was.  Ibsen keenly saw how we as human beings blindly adhere to unexamined tradition. It was just as rampant in 1881 as it was in 1995. At that point, I naively thought that if we just had a good argument based on evidence we could solve a lot of society’s problems.  Ibsen saw through that false hope as well—just read ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.

Most recently I have heard discussions of how much of American culture is based on anti-intellectualism and the death of expertise.  In the same moment, we have the liberty to believe our own feelings/opinions about something, we can check on Google to back up our newfound expertise. How many times have we checked to tell our doctor what is really wrong with us?  It seems Ibsen was exposing the same public lack of deep critical thinking 136 years ago. No generation is exempt from those who champion blind belief over solid fact-based evidence. But like most of Ibsen’s work, he offers no simple answers but presents a mirror (often haunted) for us to see our true selves.

So when I read Gustav Tegby’s adaptation of “GHOSTS & zombies,” I knew the play was just as resonant now. In a heated discussion between Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving, the matriarch challenges the Reverend and his deeply held traditional beliefs.  She states…

“Well, when you forced me into what you call duty and obligation, everything deep within me was upset. That was when I started to scrutinize your teachings more closely. I just wanted to fiddle with a single small knot, but when I got it to loosen, the whole thing unraveled. I realized then that it was all a string of lies.”

And it is that unraveling that is so exceptional in Tebgy’s rendition of the play. As I was working on the translation I kept in mind that there are scholars who argue that GHOSTS is the first modern play that can be categorized within the genre of horror. Ibsen knew how to use tension to keep the suspense alive and used syphilis as the central metaphor to demonstrate how the sins of the past generation devastatingly affect the current generation. Tegby leaned expertly into both the horror genre and the tension that is in the original. Syphilis is a disease that eats the brain—so how appropriate that Tegby exchanges one brain-eating metaphor with another. The zombie apocalypse is upon us.  How are YOU keeping the zombies at bay?

Akvavit Theatre’s “GHOSTS & zombies” runs September 28th – October 29th. For more information visit

About author

Chad Eric Bergman

actively collaborates in the Chicago storefront scene having worked with Stage Left, Live Bait, Chicago Dramatists, MPAACT, parker, Plasticene and Akvavit in various artistic ways. He has been an artist in residence at the Ragdale Foundation and the University of Chicago’s Summer Incubator. He spent a year in Finland on a Fulbright exploring bilingual theatre. At North Park University, he has been developing a theatre curriculum that is based on the Chicago storefront theatre model.