Impressionistic Ghosts @ Black Button Eyes

4 Stars out of 4


I do not understand the plot of Dave Malloy’s song cycle Ghost Quartet.  And I do not care: I just want everyone to go live it, and be as beguiled and confounded as I was. And I want to see it again. And again. I don’t know what the author’s initial impulse was, but it’s as if Malloy threw a bookshelf of college reading into a blender and created an impressionistic collage from the ideas that come out of the top, setting it to winsome and moving music as a gift for an intimate audience. Now playing at The Box theatre in Stage 773, there’s a bit of Poe’s House of Usher, with a bunch of Arabian Nights, spiced up with some Grimm’s Fairy Tales (the violin made from a girl’s ribcage). Thelonious Monk stops by and there’s a commercial for various kinds of whiskey.  Four  friends/lovers/family members range over  time and literary references in a stylish, absolutely compelling 90 minute experience that will have you humming on your way home.  There is no linear storyline but an internal intuitive logic that works on its own terms. As conceived by Black Button Eyes Productions whose mission is to help magic invade reality, the four versatile performers play instruments, lure you in, and spin you out again to wonder just what it was you sat through.  TJ Anderson, Alex Ellsworth, Rachel Guth and Amanda Raquel Martinez are talented musicians and moving actors perfectly directed by Ed Rutherford  to lead you on the journey  that takes you from 14th century Persia to 21st century New York City with stops from England to Sarajevo to whatever your inner Tardis is.  Don’t expect to know where you have been. Projection designer G.” Max”  Maxin IV has created a kind of video game to visually steer you through the maze of plot points and set designer Jeremy Hollis has created a kind of Cornell box/hoarder room of visual stimulation to refer to, and there’s that giant bear head and creepy violin to make you uncomfortably comfortable. This is a work that begs you to just go along for the ride.

Ghost Quartet is a kind of theatrical pointillism that coaleseces into a feeling more than a meaning.  There is at the end a sense of humanism and transcendence, a kind of tragic peace, a fragile beauty.  Just like life.  I can’t explain it, I can only recommend it.

Ghost Quartet is playing Saturdays and Sundays at The Box at Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.  For tickets and information go to or call 773-327-5252. Or go to Ghost Quartet — Black Button Eyes Productions