When the lights dim for showtime, and the blue hue of lights hit the stage, the sound of ocean waves meets our ears. Later, it is the pit musicians whose strings and brass come to us; which then is married to the belting of vocals, the strongest of which belongs to not-so-friendly ghosts (Mikaela Sullivan and Kevin Webb).
Six blue-green stage lights illuminate a simple stage no larger than a modest office. To our delight, Black Button Eyes Productions makes up for this small space with its intimacy between cast and crowd members, as they sing to the rafters and walk about the aisles.
“I heard the whispers,” says a young orphaned Christopher. He is in the home—which doubles as a lighthouse—of his estranged Aunt Lily. Christopher shoulders not only the weight of those he has lost in his life, but also of those who still walk among him, both living and dead.
Black Button Eyes Productions Stages Musical About Trust
Christopher (Leo Spiegel) and his Aunt (Kate Nawrocki) do not live alone. They are accompanied by the lighthouse hand, Japanese-born Mr. Yasuhiro (Karmann Bajuyo). Their lives are contained and solemn. We are in World War II-era America, and Mr. Yasuhiro’s country of origin, as well as the lighthouse’s ghosts who were musicians in a past life, bring themes of trust, resilience, and race relations into the spotlight. Time-festered wounds and the refusal to fully trust in one another comes to be tested by the sweeping arm of the law, embodied by Sheriff Charles (T.J. Anderson).
The musical progresses through personal relationships—Yasuhiro and Lily, Lily and Christopher, Christopher and the ghosts, Yasuhiro and Charles—all of which rely on one thing: trust, or more precisely, lack thereof.
“Too much trust is the road to Hell …”
Only six cast members display wave upon wave of human emotion—uncertainty, anger, love, fear. We are in such close parameters. Many, like this writer, likely began to we examine the ways we rely on one another—citizen on country; loved one on loved one; future on past.
Music is made by more than instruments
Inserted sounds such as the creek of floorboards, or the call of a seagull, fit in like puzzle pieces, even as they are called out for semi-comic relief. In an otherwise emotionally weighted plot, moments of this subtle humor pierce through. In this viewer’s opinion, that was a necessity in between songs chiming lyrics such as "... Better to be dead …” and “… Don’t look the world is ending …”
For those with a strong moral compass, or those holding out for the good on the other side of personal demons, WHISPER HOUSE is a 2020 must see.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Cast:T.J. Anderson, Karmann Bajuyo, Kate Nawrocki, Leo Spiegel, Mikaela Sullivan and Kevin Webb. Understudy: Huy Nguyen.
WHISPER HOUSE includes Nikolaj Sorensen (scenic design, technical director), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Liz Cooper (lighting design), Robert Hornbostel (sound design), Adrian Hadlock (props design), Brendan Hutt (violence design) and Cecilia Koloski (stage manager).
Through February 15, 2020
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 2 pm
The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio Two),
2936 N. Southport Ave.
About the Author:
Margaret Smith is a writer, editor, and critic achieving her B.A. from Columbia College Chicago. Having migrated from small-town Illinois, she now dwells in Chicago with a curious eye for art and a penchant for commentary. When not putting pen to paper, you might catch her about the city sipping coffee and filling in crossword puzzles.