Anne O’Riordan in “Ghosting,” a performance on screen presented by the Irish Rep.
By Peter McDermott
Ghosting is the “practice of ending a personal relationship with somebody by suddenly, and without explanation, withdrawing from all communication.”
It’s an old-fashioned sounding term to describe a modern phenomenon. Of course, people often disappeared without trace in the past, sometimes for an extended period, in other cases never to be heard from again. It was one way couples separated before divorce was legal. (The Deserted Wife’s Allowance was a vital part of Ireland’s social welfare system.)
What’s different here, perhaps, is “all communication” in an era when we are connected 24/7; it’s possible to cut someone off quite dramatically without actually disappearing.
It’s the “without explanation” part of the equation, though, that is seen as particularly cruel; in the realm of murder, the equivalent would be disappearing a body.
Mark in “Ghosting,” written by Jamie Beamish and Anne O’Riordan, doesn’t seem cruel so much as a bit strange. His girlfriend Síle or Sí, played by O’Riordan in this mostly one-person show, is a fellow loner, and in their chaste first months the late-teenage couple are comfortable in their silences together. Then just when Sí finds out about her mother’s dire health prognosis, Mark becomes a series of firsts— the first man she kisses, the first she sleeps with and the first she needs.
Six years later, Sí knocks on the door of Mark’s mother, who asks why she didn’t do that at the time she was ghosted. However, in ghosting the rules tend to be electronic.
The word “ghost,” almost inevitably, is also used in its original meaning, but when ghosts appear at the end of the bed they tend to be explainable via REM sleep or a vivid, grieving imagination. Film director Olivier Assayas took a different tack with the Paris-set “Personal Shopper” starring Kristen Stewart in 2016, allowing for the possibility of the supernatural and the paranormal. For Assayas, they represent anything we can’t explain or don’t know.
In “Ghosting,” otherworldly language is used only colloquially, such as when Síle’s mother describes her daughter as “my little piece of heaven” or an “angel from heaven.” And we can say for sure that the young woman’s loss of her mother is her primary grief, and the why of Mark’s disappearance almost seems beside the point. Still the writers look for solutions as to why people do hurtful things and find that there is even closure in hearing “I don’t know.”
The story that shifts from small-town, coastal County Waterford to London is told well with technical effects, and there are plenty of twists and turns of plot to keep viewers fully engaged over the course of the actor’s winning performance. O’Riordan ably takes on a cast of characters, including family members, a short co-worker in London named Tom and a very tall trainee County Waterford undertaker, Lorcan, who has a particular interest in brushing hair, and not just dead people’s.
It’s an almost one-person performance, as mentioned; there are a few lines from a disembodied voice that is Mark’s, towards the end, and the play’s tenderest moment is then as O’Riordan’s Sí beholds her former lover’s unseen face.
“Ghosting” is presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre through Sunday, July 4. It’s a Theatre Royal Waterford and Throwin Shapes Production. Reservations are free but required to access this digital event. A donation of $25 is suggested for those who can afford to give. Go to IrishRep.org to make a reservation.