A WAYWARD SPIRIT, Playwrights’ Center. In an age of TV-sitcom clones passing for plays, an old-fashioned romantic fantasy is as rare as it is refreshing. In this bittersweet tale of a ghost who haunts the woman he loved 40 years earlier, you will find no mean one-liners, no farcical madcap scrambles (though a rough-and-ready exorcism comes precariously close), and no facile group-hug denouement. Instead playwright Lucina Paquet Gabbard draws her humor–and her pathos–from her characters, whose life experiences shape their actions in a manner that’s consistently believable and familiar.

Under the direction of Mary Spaeth, the cast delivers the unhurried, nuanced performances characteristic of seasoned players, especially the venerable Raoul Johnson as the most charming phantom since Mrs. Muir’s captain. Gabbard laces her arguments with enough sentimental fuzziness to blur the fundamental impropriety of intercourse between the living and the dead (which, further defying modern dramatic fashions, is confined to kisses and cuddles), while handling the theological ramifications with a light touch. Though certainly microcosmic in its scope, A Wayward Spirit goes beyond sugary cliches to emerge as a mature and well-crafted, if stubbornly optimistic, speculation on the Great Inevitable. –Mary Shen Barnidge