Ghost Quartet at the Elision Playhouse in Crystal

The Elision Playhouse in Crystal is a new performance theatre that opened in 2019 as a home for Theatre Elision and other theatre companies. There are two spaces a theatre and a cabaret. Ghost Quartet was performed in the cabaret setting which I assume doubles as the lobby for most shows. They have the usual concessions and bar, where you can get soft drinks, wine and beer. There were tables and chairs set up surrounding the stage area which was the center of the room. This like the Hollow which I reviewed earlier in the month is billed as a concept album, but whereas that production used dance to enhance the music, this show used snippets of dialogue. The Program notes

“We advise our audience members who are seeing this for the first time to not try to understand what’s going on (because it will make little sense). Just enjoy the music and experience that is Ghost Quartet.”

Theatre Elision Ghost Quartet program

Riiiiiiight. Well that certainly is good advice, because very little of it made sense and yet it was too specific to welcome the audience to bring it’s own interpretation.

The good news is that this is a talented cast, the four performers Kellen McMillen, Quinn Shadko, Tristen Sima, and Christine Wade are all talented musicians and singers. I found Shadko and Wade in particular to have powerful vocal tools and acting skills. They are accompanied by the music Director /Pianist Harrison Wade. Let me be crystal (bun intended) clear, the musicians and vocalists do a superb job. They also have a solid presence on stage and ably perform the dialogue and acted portions. There are several moments of levity within those interludes that almost assist us to find our footing in the show as a whole. But not quite.

I suspect I missed something, perhaps if I were not “seeing this for the first time” I would have gotten more out of it. But I cannot honestly imagine sitting down to the show a second time. Maybe it’s not my type of music. Maybe I just need a plot if you are going to have dialogue and be seeming to tell multiple disjointed and unconnected stories, except they all seem to be disjointed and unconnected within each story. I wanted to like this production I really did. I thought the description of the music sounded right up my alley. But it just didn’t connect. There are a couple of songs I enjoyed, “Starchild” and “Hero”, though don’t ask me now what they were about. A quick wikipedia search shows there is a very lengthy synopsis, which I have chosen not to read. This is a case where I feel like the show itself either speaks to you or it doesn’t. Perhaps if I’d tracked down one of the recordings and familiarized myself with the songs it would have been a different experience. There was also an unfortunate mic issue that persisted through the second half of the show that didn’t help things. That is the sort of thing there just isn’t really anything you can do about during the show. The actors must simply muster on which they gamely did.

There were a couple of other quirks in the show. first they handed out shots of whiskey to those over 21 and who cleared ahead of time that they would welcome it. I’m not sure why that was needed. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to offer free drinks to the audience and there were mentions of whiskey in the show, but it just seemed odd and unnecessary. The second was the handing out of percussion instruments to members of the audience. This was done twice. The first time I was praying to be spared, and thankfully I was. I looked around at my fellow audience members , some of whom seemed to enjoy it. One Patron seated near me was given a rain stick to accompany the music with. I may be mistaken but they seemed to be having the reaction I would have had, which is, what the F*#@ am I supposed to do with a rainstick? this experiment in audience participation didn’t seem to work, as I can not remember a single thing about that song. The second attempt at press ganging into percussion service I was not able to avoid. Luckily, I was not given a toothpick and cheese grater and expected to contribute anything meaningful. I was thankfully given a Maraca. though rusty, the 11 years of Maraca lessons I took from Mrs. Johnson down the street growing up came back to me. The extraordinary thing is, that this attempt at audience participation was the single strongest moment of the show, once everyone was playing, the cast walked out of the room and we kept playing until we naturally finished. It ended the show on a very high note and a feeling of connection that was in contrast to the alienation that proceeded it. It really was a great ending, but it was too late to save the show for this reviewer.

Again, The performers were great, they sang well, I just didn’t connect with what they were singing. If I saw this cast was performing another show, I’d be there in a heartbeat as their talent is clear. For me the let down was the writer Dave Malloy. I know he is a Tony Nominated artist so a talented writer of music no doubt. But this just seemed impenetrable to me. Now that I have finished writing my review I’ve gone a looked around a bit and I find that some local reviewers I admire such as Cherry and Spoon and Twin Cities Stages have given praise to the show in past productions. So If you are familiar with the show or the music then by all means check it out, it runs thru Oct 31st. Tickets can be purchased on their website