When I was watching Ghost Quartet, the one thing going through my mind was, “This is so fucking weird.” Ghost Quartet is one hell of an avante-garde production, capitalizing on eclectic musical styles and unusual performance.
What is it about? I’m not entirely sure. It’s certainly not the easiest show to follow. It consists of four intertwined stories, layered upon one another like matryoshka dolls, and told out of order. The main story is that of two sisters named Pearl and Rose who become enemies. I’m just gonna copy and paste from the original press notes: “A camera breaks and four friends drink in four interwoven narratives spanning seven centuries: a warped fairy tale about two sisters, a treehouse astronomer and a lazy evil bear; a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’; a purgatorial intermezzo about Scheherazade and the ghost of Thelonious Monk; and a contemporary fable about a subway murder. Throughout these four stories two women cross paths, sometimes as strangers, sometimes as sisters, sometimes as lovers, sometimes as mother and daughter.”
It’s an odd duck of a show. The entire production takes place in a tiny carpeted room, with some of the audience sitting on cushions on the floor. Stage decorations are sparse; some lanterns hanging from the ceilings, old-fashioned carpets, and bottles of alcohol. You wouldn’t think that sitting in a small room watching four people sing would be so entertaining, but it is!
For me, what was truly spectacular to me about this show as the performances of the two leading ladies, Brittain Ashford and Gelsey Bell. I had previously seen both of them in Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, but in Ghost Quartet they truly have a chance to explore their vocal range. I had already liked Brittain’s voice, but here she does so many more interesting things with it. Gelsey Bell left me speechless. There were moments when Gelsey was singing where I was literally sitting in my seat open-mouthed.
Not only are they both spectacular singers, but they are performers. Gelsey flitted between various characters, from Pearl to the ancient storyteller Scheherazade to the ill Lady Usher, playing wise and droll and creepy with equal fortitude. Brittain was equally capable in both her wide-eyed innocence and in her fury. Together, Brittain and Gelsey make a formidable pair.
The other two performers, Brent Arnold and Dave Malloy, were only “fine” in comparison. Brent barely featured, but I did enjoy his voice when he sang. I am still unimpressed by Dave’s voice, but I was very happy to be sitting barely two feet from him as he played piano.
As the show runs through stories spanning seven centuries or more, switching from modern to ancient in a single song, it evokes a feeling of timelessness, like it exists cut out of the normal space-time continuum. It naturally follows that it feels epic, like the stories of old, and as a creator it inspired me so much I wished I could bottle my feelings from that night and return to them whenever I need creative boost.