Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s second feature, ‘Ghostlight,’ opens in a conventional manner that conceals its deeply poignant emotional undercurrent. Dan (Keith Kupferer) wakes up in the waking hours to get ready for his construction job while a version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” plays in the background. You can envision this song from the 1943 Broadway musical ‘Oklahoma’ against images of caution tape and noisy jackhammers and see the funny irony. But this joining of stage play and the mundane sometimes struggles of real life seemingly come together within a natural tempo. 

If Dan isn’t dodging reckless drivers trying to prepare the street, he’s getting yelled at by a lady named Rita (Dolly de Leon) to keep the noise down. The problems continue from there; Dan and his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) have an emotional disconnect that they have to work through. Their daughter Daisy (Katherine May Kupferer) is acting out at school and is a hair away from being expelled entirely without some pleading. O’Sullivan and Thompson’s choice to drop the audience while this family’s story is still in motion only makes you want to inquire about what maelstrom came and shook their foundation more. This trio has a closeness for one another, as many families would. Still, there are instances of angry outbursts or outright avoidance to acknowledge hard feelings bubbling up on the surface. It’s because this unit experienced a profound tragedy that they one day have to come to grips with for a path forward. 

Photo Credit: IFC Films

Sometimes, we feel that avoiding feeling the weight of grief is a form of protection. In reality, we are prolonging the wound from healing (and perhaps letting our bonds with others weaken). Through the first half of Ghostlight, resentment builds inside Dan to the point where he has a confrontation on the job. Whether kicking or screaming, it’s clear that he needs an outlet, which comes from Rita’s act of kindness. She is part of a community theater ensemble gearing up for a production of Romeo and Juliet. It begins with Dan doing the breathing exercises, a table read, and his potential role growing. The choice of the play isn’t a coincidence; it’s integral to Dan’s journey in forgiveness — within that smaller story, Daisy and Sharon also gain some room to heal also.

In ‘Ghostlight,’ there’s a race against time in two different modicum on a collision course – the opening night of the one-night-only play and a date that the family (or mostly Dan) has been trying to avoid. As the famous saying goes, “The only way out is through,” Dan finds his way out of the muck with his family on the other side through a lovable band of local thespians. While our relation to art and how it can act as a mechanism of healing is at the center of this story, a subplot of friendship between Dan and Rita is just as important. Rita is a former actress who lived the New York Broadway dream and has been hardened by it. But not enough to not notice Dan, someone who is stuck in a quagmire of personal storms and needs a helping hand. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has been shaped, contorted, and modernized through many different forms to bring a modern spin to one of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedies. O’Sullivan and Thompson weave a refreshing allegorical usage of an old story into seeing things from another perspective. Healing, understanding, absolution, truth, and guidance are some of the ways art ushers us through the darker periods throughout our lives. The beauty within all that is, no matter the level of understanding, is that there’s a universal language that meets us where we are and picks us up to carry us where we need to be.