Centenary Stage’s ‘Ghost Train’ offers some satisfying thrills and a few laughs, too

Ghost Train Review Hackettstown

CHRIS YOUNG

From left, Peter Kendall, Carolyn Popp, David Sitler, Campbell Symes, C.J. Carter and Sara Giacomini in the Centenary State Company’s “Ghost Train.”

Last year, the Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown presented a fine production of “Dracula” during the month of October. This year, it is mounting a production of a more obscure play, “Ghost Train,” that is equally appropriate for the Halloween season. It runs through Oct. 20.

Written by the British playwright and actor Arnold Ridley, “Ghost Train” was first produced in London and on Broadway in the 1920s, and inspired several film adaptations. Directed by Carl Wallnau, the Centenary production — which, like the Broadway version, transfers the action from its original setting, the Mangotsfield railway station in England, to a station near Rockland, Me. — offers some scary moments along with some wry laughs.

It’s a nice find, and a good change of pace for those who have overdosed on other, more familiar forms of Halloween entertainment.

The play begins with the arrival of a long-married, unhappy couple, Richard Winthrop (Peter Kendall) and Elsie Winthrop (Campbell Symes), at a gloomy, old, remotely located train station. They’re followed by a newlywed couple, Charles Murdock (CJ Carter) and Peggy Murdock (Sara Giacomini), an eccentric old lady, Miss Bourne (Carolyn Popp), and an upper-class twit, Teddy Deakin (Justin Pietropaolo). Because of a problem with their train, they will be stranded at the station overnight.

The creepy station master, Saul Hodgkin (David Sitler), warns them that the station is haunted and sometimes visited by a “ghost train,” and that it’s not a good idea to stay overnight. But the nearest possible lodging is far away, and there are no cabs or other forms of transportation available, and it’s raining. So they decide to stay, anyway.

Pietropaolo, in particular, has lots of fun with his loathsome, cluelessly crass character, who is actually the one responsible for getting them stranded, and who quickly gets on the nerves of his fellow passengers.

I won’t give away the plot twists, but there are many — some of them quite surprising. I didn’t see the main twist coming: I tried to figure it out, but was preoccupied with some of the red herrings that Ridley planted in his script. And so it delivered a satisfying jolt, before everything was neatly resolved.

The Centenary Stage Company will present “Ghost Train” at the Sitnik Theatre at the Lackland Performing Arts Center in Hackettstown through Oct. 20; visit centenarystageco.org.

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