Sunday, October 6, 2019

Review: Chills 'n Thrills at CSC's 'The Ghost Train'

Calling all mystery fans, particularly of the supernatural thriller variety. Look no further: The Centenary Stage Company is presenting the perfect Halloween season treat. The play is The Ghost Train by British playwright Arnold Ridley. In addition to wide theater exposure for almost 100 years, including Broadway, it was filmed no less than six times, plus two tv versions. It was even produced as a musical in 1954. The Centenary Stage production makes one key change …. moving the setting from England to the US.  

The play takes place in the waiting room of a wayside railway station on a branch line near Rockland, Maine. The excellent realistic set is by New York designer Matthew Imhoff. Perfect spot to credit Anthony Raddi and Martin Kolb for the shiver producing light and sound effects.

Here is the big question: Would you spend a night in a haunted train station? Well, six train travelers are stranded overnight in an inhospitable train station in the backwoods of Maine. The equally inhospitable stationmaster demands that they leave the station…in torrential rain with the nearest help five miles cross country. To convince them to leave, he explains the strange tale of a train wreck years before that killed six people. The train is said to pass the area at midnight with the long dead engineer at the throttle. Locals have been warned that to look at the train means death. 

From this point the story has as many twists as an alpine road. To go further in a plot description will spoil the ‘fun.’ Note that this a perfect date event since hand holding may by required during many of the chilling moments. The critic of the British newspaper The Guardian called The Ghost Train “the world’s scariest play.”

Director Carl Wallnau, a master of thrillers (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Agatha Cristie’s The Mouse Trap and Ira Levin’s Deathtrap), has nicely cast The Ghost Train with a combination of professional theatre vets and several newcomers.

 Leading the professionals are Michael Irvin Pollard (Herbert Price), Peter Kendall (Richard Winthrop), David Sitler (Saul Hodgkin) with his wife Carolyn Popp (Miss Bourne), Justin Pietropaolo (Teddy Deakin), Lauren T. Mack -photo above (Julia Price), Craig Macdonald (John Sterling), and Ryan Robert Washington (Jackson). 

The equally fine young cast members include Campbell Symes (Elsie Winthrop), CJ Carter (Charles Murdock), Sara Giacomini (Peggy Murdoch). Also, in the supporting cast are Malachi Bobien and Gabe Landes (to reveal their roles may be a bit of a spoiler). 

Stand out performances from David Sitler as the mysterious Stationmaster Hodgkin, Sitler’s real wife Carolyn Popp …spot-on in her hilarious  introduction to brandy (photo right), and Justin Pietropaolo as the English dandy Teddy Deakin. Clearly having the most fun ‘dancing’ is Lauren T. Mack as Julia Price.

Also, credit to the usually neglected stage manager, in this case it is one of the area’s most in demand SM’s, Danielle Constance. The proper period costumes are from Nicole Wilkowski.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  Oct. 4, 2019

The ‘world’s ‘scariest play’ is a great exageration, but nevertheless The Ghost Train will keep you on the edge of your seat.
 It plays until October 20th at the comfortable Lackland Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $27.50 to $32.00 for adults with discounts available for students, seniors and children under 12. Tickets are available on – line at or by phone at (908) 979 – 0900. All performances will be held in the Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center at 715 Grand Ave. Hackettstown, NJ.

Cast photos by Chris Young

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