A Haunted History: Ghastly Ghosts of Center Theatre Group’s Past
This month’s 2:22 – A Ghost Story at the Ahmanson Theatre follows a couple and their friends as they attempt to discover what is haunting their home at 2:22 am each evening. But 2:22 – A Ghost Story isn’t the only spectral sensation to have appeared on our stages. Take a look back at some of the spooky stories that have graced our stages.
Nöel Coward’s Blithe Spirit took the stage at the Ahmanson Theatre in 2015. Novelist Charles Condomine and a medium summon the ghost of his deceased wife, Elvira, who attempts to win Charles back from the other side—and out of the arms of his new wife.
In the same season, Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at the Mark Taper Forum in 2015 explored the hauntings of a Southern family’s decaying Arkansas plantation home as they struggle over their recently deceased father’s inheritance. The ‘ghosts’ of this play are less literal—as the family finds artifacts depicting the brutal murders of innocent Black people, their surroundings grow increasingly tense and unsettling, revealing how they are haunted by their past.
Be careful not to read this one aloud—one of the most infamous spooky tales in the theatre world is the superstition behind The Scottish Play: Macbeth. By speaking the title in a theatre space, you may cause disaster to befall the performance you are about to see. This legend dates all the way back the very first performance in 1606, when Lady Macbeth died suddenly and Shakespeare himself had to stand in. In 1849, two actors playing Macbeth in rival productions died during the Astor Place Riots. Even esteemed Shakespearean actor Lawrence Olivier came close to injury in a production of Macbeth at the Old Vic Theatre in Should you ever slip up and say the true title aloud, exit the theatre, spit, and spin around three times before reentering...that is, if you’re allowed.
The Scottish Play was performed in 1975 at the Ahmanson Theatre, early in Center Theatre Group’s 55-year history. Beyond the supposed superstition, the play itself features the ghosts of Macbeth’s victims. In Macbeth, the titular character murders his beloved friend Banquo at the bidding of his power-hungry wife. Banquo’s ghost later haunts Macbeth, who causes quite a scene at dinner as a result.
Though not a literal ghost, who could forget The Phantom of the Opera, which had a record-breaking four-year run from 1989 to 1992 at the Ahmanson Theatre, becoming one of the longest-running West Coast theatrical productions of all time. The musical is based on a 1900s novel by Gaston Leroux, which he wrote after exploring the supposedly haunted Paris Opera House. One such haunted instance in 1896 inspired one of the most famous theatrical scenes of all time: a seven-ton chandelier fell from the ceiling, killing a concierge.
Just last season, the Ahmanson Theatre brought the classic tale of A Christmas Carol to audiences, in which protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas’ past, present, and future in an effort to change his curmudgeonly ways.
Not all of our ghost stories are behind us. Soon to come to the Kirk Douglas Theatre this season is the West Coast premiere of Our Dear Dead Drug Lord by Alexis Scheer, in which a group of teenage girls summon the ghost of cocaine cartel leader Pablo Escobar. So, if you’re interested in more harrowing ghost tales, stay tuned if you dare!