Review: The People’s Four Seasons (Quest Ensemble)

     
     

Quest joyously reminds us of warmer weather ahead

  
  

Quest Theatre - Four Seasons - Photo Credit: Jeremy Lawson

  
Quest Theatre Ensemble presents
  
The People’s Four Seasons
 
Written and Directed by Andrew Park
Music by
Scott Lamps
at
The Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: FREE  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

The four seasons (in temperate parts of the world, anyway) have served as a muse ever since those first cavemen artists noticed that outside became cold, then hot, then cold again. The seasons inspired Vivaldi and they inspired Frankie Valli. Quest Ensemble, with their plethora of puppets, enlisted Scott Lamps to compose a musical dedicated to the cycle of nature.

Quest Theatre - Four Seasons - Production Image 3Written and directed by Andrew Park, Quest’s The People’s Four Seasons (which skews more towards early 20th Century operetta than modern musical) mostly rehashes commonly-espoused thoughts and beliefs. Spring brings babies and winter brings death. But with a spirited cast, ingenious design, and decent songwriting, The Four Seasons bursts with life. While in the final throes of winter, it is nice to be reminded that warmer times will come at some point, like they always do.

Park puts a sometimes-clunky frame on his celebration of nature. We watch the seasons change through the eyes of an old man. The stage is split into two areas; one of whimsy and one of stark reality. With his daughter’s assistance, the man is making the hard move from the house he grew up in to a retirement home. He is oft distracted by a tree just outside the window, which serves up plenty of pregnant memories. These music-laden memories are played out for the audience on another portion of the stage.

He remembers the tree from his spring birth—apparently he has one of the best memories in the world. We watch how the man’s life changes, just like the seasons do. A younger version of the man builds a house as we watch a massive spider spin a web. Though the narrative is a bit pedestrian, it still works. Quest hits a nice balance for the audience. There’s enough substance for adults to sink their teeth into and plenty of theatrics for children. Of course, there were plenty of children-at-heart with mouths agape.

I found myself wishing Scott Lamps’ score was vaster. We get a piano and a quartet of singers, a fuller arrangement could really make the show pop. The lyrics are straightforward (“I’m thankful/for you” repeats the autumn song) and fairly catchy.

However, it’s The Four Seasons simplicity that shines. Even though the story is nothing new, it still digs at your heart, inducing giggles and tears. Quest Ensemble has this secret nailed down. The brilliant puppetry, unafraid to show the strings, makes this show far more complex and fascinating than mere children’s theatre. The puppeteers bring bees, birds, and a myriad of other creatures to life. The tale is as much about the natural world as it is about the characters that ground it.

Quest Theatre Emsemble - The People's Four SeasonsThe singers acting out the man’s memories spout energy. The memories lean towards the sentimental, but who doesn’t remember their life with a little embellishment? Performers like Laura Deger, Jason Bowen and Kent Joseph dive into Parks’ style. Others, like Beth Allin, occasionally struggle to maintain presence and risk losing the audience during solo numbers. When several actors are on-stage, though, everything sails along merrily.

The most exciting aspect of Four Seasons is the joy it exudes. I left the theatre into the February cold with a renewed sense of hope. Quest is the self-branded “People’s Theatre” and therefore charge no admission. The Four Seasons fit right into their mission, telling a story common to us all. In less innovative hands, the play could easily be grade-school pageant quality. Yet, Park and Quest’s sense of wonder appears in the execution. They have created a celebration of life, one that envigors and consoles.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Quest Theatre Emsemble's 'The People's Four Seasons', by Andrew Park and music by Scott Lamps.

    
    

Continue reading

REVIEW: Drum Circle Pandora (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

 

Come To The Circle!

 

 IMG_4272

   
Quest Theatre Ensemble presents
   
The People’s Drum Circle Pandora
  
Conceived and Directed by Andrew Park
at
St. Gregory’s Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory (map)
thru September 19  |  tickets: FREE  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Quest Theatre Ensemble has created a community experience in the truest sense of the word with Drum Circle Pandora. This is actually theatre of the people where in the audience is encouraged to participate in a celebratory manner. Many theatres try too hard to draw the audience into an alternative reality for a short time.  Quest, however, provides a dizzying array of percussion instruments for the audience to use, allowing participants to create the production on a primal level.

IMG_4320 The first act is the drum circle part of the evening. Drum circles invite people to release emotion and raise inner consciousness through communal drumming and singing.  Quest expertly uses this vehicle, then, to create an open and receptive audience-experience.  The audience is first given a lesson in achieving different sounds from the drums by cast member Aimee Bass, aka ‘Sister Drum’.  Bass is accompanied by Kim DeVore, aka ‘Sister Didge’.  Bass and DeVore are exceptional musicians; their charismatic presence adds color and intensity to the music emanating from their chosen instruments.

Act two, which adds an electric ensemble to the first act performers, is centered on the myth of Pandora – but with a twist: Pandora was not responsible for all of the evils of the world. Instead, by opening the box, Pandora illuminated what was already there. This makes it possible for humankind to see that the perception of evil comes from within as does all good and hope. Creator Andrew Park provides a Greek Chorus of Brother Sun and the Sunshine Girls to accompany Pandora’s journey. Jason Bowen plays the role of Brother Sun with great humor and a touch of lusty naughtiness.

In the tradition of musicals such as Hair and O Calcutta, songs are anthems to moral restraints breaking free. But Pandora instead explores the responsibility that springs from that freedom. The quandaries are still the same in every era. How does humanity ignore what we have wrought? There is poverty, war, and environmental ravages, but people choose not to put light on the situation. While the entire cast does a wonderful job of dancing and singing, Angelica Keenan does a star turn in the title role. Her skills as a dancer are excellent. One unfortunate exception, however, is a dance she performs while wearing boots, a clunky costume choice that literally hampers the beauty of her movement and the gravity of the scene. Ms. Keenan is paired with Merrill Matheson as her spouse Epemethious. Matheson is excellent in portraying societal denial with the personas of businessman, husband etc.

IMG_4353

A wonderful ensemble featuring music in arena rock style enhances the song productions, harkening back to the Rick Wakeman days of the group Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer in their heyday. The addition of a didgeridoo by Ms. DeVore adds a sinister and primordial shading to Act 2. The music underscores the archetypal essence of the Pandora myth, i.e., women are usually to blame for the downfall of man in patriarchal tales. There was Eve and her apple, before her Lillith and concurrently Pandora. Drum Circle Pandora seeks to put an equal spin on how it all went down and how everyone must look at what we create in full light as the ultimate solution for harmony, prosperity, and good stewardship of the environment. In the process, Quest creates a timely tale, especially considering the state of the world at the moment.

A special mention must be given to the production’s set design and scenic artistry. Nick Rupard and Julie Taylor have done a fabulous job of alternating cyc walls and moveable scenery. Whether it is sunflowers or destruction, the sets are lush, giving added depth to the action. The masks and puppetry by Megan Hovany are exceptional as well. Drum Circle Pandora is a rich and crazy carnival for the eyes and ears. You will be singing the theme song ‘Come To The Circle’ long after you leave the theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

IMG_4300 The mission of Quest Theatre Ensemble is to provide free access to theatre for everyone. The productions are free of charge but donations are welcome  – and will certainly help the company buy more instruments and to help spread the word about the production. Drum Circle Pandora is best for ages 12 and up, as some scenes are quite intense.  Also, other than the drumming, I’m not sure if kids younger than 12 will understand the premise (though I’m speaking from a mother’s perspective).

Drum Circle Pandora runs every Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Admission is free but reservations are encouraged and honored. The theatre is located at Quest’s Blue Theatre – 1609 W. Gregory. It is in the St. Gregory the Great School building that is accessible by CTA. Go and get your drum on as the summer wanes!

 

Continue reading