by Lynn on October 16, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Music, lyrics and text by Dave Malloy

Directed by Marie Farsi

Musical direction by Andrew Penner

Set, lighting and costumes by Patrick Lavender

Cast: Beau Dixon

Hailey Gillis

Kira Guloien

Andrew Penner

A stunningly atmospheric, beautifully designed and meticulously directed and performed production of Dave Malloy’s complex, playful, macabre song cycle.

Dave Malloy’s song cycle about ghosts, the macabre, two devoted sisters who were betrayed in love, a broken camera, a subway driver, a photographer, a pusher and a victim, among others, was first performed in New York in 2014. Malloy references Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the music of Thelonious Monk, ghost stories, hip-hop, jazz, honky-tonk, mythology and astronomy. The many benefits of whisky are celebrated by the characters who reveal the many secrets of this beguiling, challenging, intoxicating glorious show.

The four characters enter Patrick Lavender’s beautifully designed, evocatively lit space. They each pour a glass of whisky, clink glasses, down the drink and then go to their respective places in the space.

Instruments hang on the wall for easy access. A drum kit is over here. A piano with a bright covering is over there. There is a small bar and other appropriate pieces. Three of the characters are dressed casually (Hailey Gillis, Kira Guloien and Andrew Penner). One tall gentleman (Beau Dixon) is in a stylish coat underneath is a suit and tie. He plays the piano and assumes the spectre of the late jazz great Thelonious Monk. Andrew Penner plays the guitar while his foot hits a peddle that bangs the drum. And he also plays the harmonica and the kazoo as well, although not at the same time. And he sings. Hailey Gillis and Kira Guloien play sisters Rose and Pearl respectively among others. And they sing beautifully and play various instruments.

Dave Malloy’s two record album of Ghost Quartet is put on a turntable and each song is announced by one of the characters, for example:  “Side one, track one, “I Don’t Know.” The show and the songs are announced that way to lend it a certain theatricality. There are several strands of stories and they are not linear in their telling. We might hear of a story on one side of one record and pick it up later on another side of another record in another track. “Usher” is sung in three scattered parts and refers to “The House of Usher.”

Rose was in love with an astronomer who lived in a tree house. He stole some of her writing and passed it off as his own. Then he dumped her for her sister Pearl. Both loved him to distraction. There was friction between the sisters.

We are given a taste of each story then it’s left for another. If you keep this in mind and go with the flow and not ‘demand’ it all neatly follow then you will be fine. The artistry of Malloy’s writing and his music—not melodic in the regular sense of the word—is the dense storytelling, the many literary references and the challenge of finding each surprise.

While it’s billed as a ‘ghost quartet’ because the characters might be ghosts, the feeling, the atmosphere, is anything but mournful. Hailey Gillis jumps with joy during a few of the songs. Her face is radiant. The joy is infectious. Kira Guloien is sophisticated and more subdued, but no less compelling. She is a strong soprano. Beau Dixon plays the piano beautifully, speaks with quiet authority and is an imposing presence. Andrew Penner sings in a strong, mournful voice and plays many instruments, almost at the same time.  The clarity of the sound is eye-popping and so welcome. You hear every note, every lyric and every word.

The production is directed with dazzling creativity by Marie Farsi. She is not showing off her talent as much as she is illuminating the show, those songs, those characters and everything surrounding it. Patrick Lavender’s lighting is both murky, smoky, ghost-like and stark.

It’s a show you can and will want to see again just to catch what you might have missed. Ghost Quartet is a huge accomplishment for both Crow’s Theatre and Eclipse Theatre Company.

Crow’s Theatre and Eclipse Theatre Company present:

Began: Oct. 5, 2019.

Held over to: Nov. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes approx.

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