by Lynn on November 7, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Ghost Quartet in Concert

Streamed on line.

From Crow’s Theatre.

Written by Dave Malloy

Directed by Marie Farsi

Set, lighting by Patrick Lavender

Cast: Beau Dixon

Hailey Gillis

Kira Guloien

Andrew Penner).

Ghost Quartet in Concert is a streamed filmed treatment of Ghost Quartet, a terrific piece which I saw live at Crow’s Theatre last year.

This is interesting.  This filmed version as a concert shows up the marked difference between a live theatre performance seen in a theatre and the filmed version of that live performance.

For context let me begin with my observations about GHOST QUARTET as it played out in a theatre.  The piece is stunningly atmospheric, beautifully designed and meticulously directed and performed production of Dave Malloy’s complex, playful, macabre song cycle.

It’s 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. 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, glorious show.

The four characters enter Patrick Lavender’s beautifully designed, evocatively lit space.

They each pour a drink, clink glasses, down the drink and then go to their respective places in the space.  The space is eclectic with instruments hanging on the wall. 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  sings and plays the guitar while his foot hits a peddle that bangs the drum.  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 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.

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. In this filed version she is decidedly pregnant, (cause for jumping for joy?) which she was not last year when it played at Crow’s). Kira Guloien is sophisticated and more subdued, but no less compelling. 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. 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 design is both murky, smoky, ghostlike and stark.

As much as I loved the quirky, atmospheric production in the theatre, the transition to film is not as successful. There is a lot of fancy camera work with images fanning out from the central point but the result for the piece as a whole is that it came off as flat.

The whole sense of the eclectic set and the moody lighting gave the piece a consuming atmosphere that worked in the theatre and was lost in closeups. What captivated me in the theatre alienated and distracted me watching the streaming. The talent is unmistakable but I don’t think the piece is well served in this filmed-streamed process.

Ghost Quartet in Concert will stream until Nov. 7.


Streamed until Nov. 15, from the Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg

Written by Yvette Nolan

Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones

Original music and sound by M.J. Dandeneau

Lighting by Ksenia Broda-Milian

Film director, Sam Vint

Cast: Tracey Nepinak

This is a wonderful one person show that is a love letter to an empty theatre.

Definition: “Catharsis” (from Greek) “purification” or “cleansing” or “clarification”) is the purification and purgation of emotions — particularly pity and fear — through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.”

Katharsis was created from the start to be filmed.

The story is a love letter to the empty theatre and I think theatre in general. The stage is dark except for a ghost-light and a chair. The ghost-light in theatre tradition is the light that is put on the stage after the last person (except for the stage-door guard) has left the building. It is there to ward off ghosts or to provide light so no one will fall off the stage by accident. (Take your pick).

A woman/actress/stage-protector (Tracey Nepinak) in a flowing top and long skirt comes on stage. She is barefoot. She sits in the chair and claps her hands at the light which is beside her chair. The light turns off. She claps her hands again and the light goes on. She does this a few times, smiles at the light and finally takes it off stage.

When she returns, she says out to the darkness: “Ok, you can come back now.” Meaning this is our cue—the audience can come back now. She says she realizes that won’t be that easy because people are scared. At times she is on stage sitting in the chair, playing to the ghost light. Other times she sweeps the floor in an almost ceremonial fashion, making large circular sweeping motions, as if to get rid of the things bedevilling us.

For part of this short 15 minute piece the woman goes and sits in a seat in the empty audience.  She notes how we have always used the theatre to tell stories with lessons we then take into the world. She is that lone audience member who then goes on stage now as the actress and waits to welcome the rest back to the theatre.

I loved the simplicity of Katharsis and the ceremony of it. In her wonderful play Yvette Nolan references her Indigenous heritage and ceremonies to offer healing in times of uncertainty, stress etc. This time of the pandemic certainly has put all of us in a stressful place. Nolan also references the theatre as a place of discovery, healing and to make sense of things.

In almost every Indigenous play I’ve seen there was a ceremony welcoming everybody to come into the circle, without exception. That’s the sense I got in Nolan’s play and Tracey Nepinak’s playing. I loved this piece because of its generosity of spirit and embracing of the missing audience. Tracey Nepinak plays the woman with nuance, humour and sensitivity.  It’s beautifully directed by Thomas Morgan Jones.  

We miss being in a theatre listening to stories. This filmed production of Katharsis makes that ‘missing’ easier to bear.

Produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Katharsis is available for viewing any time until November 15th via the website ( and YouTube channel.

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