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.

    
    

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REVIEW: Drum Circle Pandora (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

 

Come To The Circle!

 

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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.

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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!

 

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Adventure Stage Chicago forms new artistic ensemble

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Adventure Stage Chicago announces new Artistic Ensemble

As Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) prepares to end their sixth season with the Midwest premiere of the pirate musical The Ghosts of Treasure Island, ASC announces the formation of a new artistic ensemble.

The eleven-member ensemble is comprised of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, teaching artists and writers committed to achieving artistic excellence through long-term collaboration and the creation of original work. The ensemble will be directly involved in the proposal of new projects, script development, season selection and the production process. A number of ensemble members also work in classrooms as teaching artists, implementing the company’s Neighborhood Bridges program in Chicago Public Schools. Additionally, ensemble members will serve as ambassadors for the company within the community, playing their part during outreach events at libraries, park districts, neighborhood street festivals and celebrations.

The creation of the ensemble re-focuses the development of new and original work to come from within the company, creating dynamic and transformative theatre experiences by Chicagoans for youth and families of Chicago.

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ASC Ensemble Members:

 

Tom Arvetis
  Tom Arvetis is the founding Producing Artistic Director of Adventure Stage Chicago, where he has directed world premieres of Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back by Jason Tremblay, The Blue House by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, and I Dream in Blues, which he co-wrote with Chicago blues singer Katharine Davis. Additionally, he recently helmed a workshop reading of Dragon/Sky by Elizabeth Wong (Silk Road Theatre Project). Tom is an Emeritus Company Member with Barrel of Monkeys, has acted in award-winning productions with the Neo-Futurists, Bailiwick Repertory Company (now Bailiwick Chicago) and Pyewacket Theatre, among others, and is a veteran sound designer. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.

 

Brian Bell
  Brian Bell recently directed Gossamer for ASC (where he also serves as a teaching artist) and will appear in their upcoming production The Ghosts of Treasure Island. Previously he completed a directing internship with the Carrousel Theater an der Parkaue in Germany and went on to direct The Retreating World by Naomi Wallace at Berlin’s Acud Theater. Brian graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Performance from the University of North Texas, where he directed and adapted Woyzeck by Georg Buechner as a final thesis. Brian is the artistic director of Chicago’s Cabaret Vagabond and has worked with Lincoln Square Theatre, Darknight Productions, Piccolo Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre and Collaboraction. He is an alumnus of the Chicago Directors Lab.

 

Brandon Campbell
  Brandon Campbell has worked for Adventure Stage Chicago as a teaching artist, stage manager and production manager since moving to Chicago in 2001. He is also an Associate of Collaboraction, serving as production manager for Sketchbook 5, 6, 7, 8 and Carnaval. Other production credits include the world premiere of Jose Rivera‘s Massacre at Goodman Theatre (with Teatro Vista), Chicago Sketchfest and several shows with the Neo-Futurists. In his creative time he has worked as a writer/performer (Dark Eyed Strangers), a puppeteer and designer (Laika’s Coffin, The Cay, Joe’s Garage, Beowulf Vs. Grendel), and a sax player (Seeking Wonderland, 2nd Story, Jenn Rhoads Project).

 

Sarah Rose Graber
  Sarah Rose Graber graduated from Northwestern University’s theatre program and received her Acting Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She was the Circumnavigator Foundation’s Travel Around the World Study Grant Scholar, which enabled her to travel the globe while researching the way theatre is used as a tool for communication and education to encourage social change. She chronicled her journey in a play called Time For Take-Off! She adapted The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a bilingual play for English and Spanish viewers and Edmund Spenser‘s epic poem “The Faerie Queene” into a mask play she directed called IMAGO, for which she received the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts Grant (CIRA) and the Program in the Study of the Imagination Grant (PSI). Chicago credits include Northlight Theatre, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Strawdog Theatre, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, Village Players Theatre, and Factory Theatre, where she is also a company member.  As a teaching artist, Sarah has taught and directed for Northlight Theatre, Arts Berwyn, Chicago Children’s Humanities Festival, the National High School Institute at Northwestern, Neighborhood Bridges, and many residencies at Chicago area schools.

 

Laura Kollar
  Laura Kollar attended Loyola University Chicago, where she earned degrees in Theater and Psychology. Costume design credits at Adventure Stage Chicago include Gossamer, Holes, The Blue House, The Cay and Shakespeare Stealer. She co-designed Still Life With Iris with fellow ASC ensemble member Jessica Kuehnau and helped create costumes for Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back and I Dream in Blues.  Laura’s work has also been seen with Actor’s Theatre Company, Theatre Mir, Lookingglass Theatre, Collaboraction, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Serendipity Theatre, North Park University and Pegasus Players, among others.

 

Jessica Kuehnau
  Jessica Kuehnau‘s previous designs for ASC have included sets for Eye of the Storm, The Shakespeare Stealer, and The Blue House, and costumes for Still Life with Iris, Search for Odysseus and Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back. Since completing her MFA in Scenic and Costume Design at Northwestern University, Chicago design credits include Rivendell Theatre, Pegasus Players, Lifeline Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Backstage Theatre Company, MPAACT, The Building Stage, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, and Light Opera Works. She is also full time faculty and resident scenic designer at Northeastern Illinois University, as well as the resident set designer and design professor at North Park University.

 

Allison Latta
  Allison Latta is a graduate of the theatre program at Virginia Tech. She has also studied Commedia dell ‘Arte with Anotonio Fava in Reggio Emelia, Italy. Chicago performance credits include Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, Strawdog Theatre and Redmoon Theatre. She was a founding member of TriArts, Inc. and created four original Commedia shows with that company, including Hfob-N-Ffos, which was named a Best of Fringe show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She has appeared in ASC’s productions of Sideways Stories from the Wayside School, And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, Still Life With Iris, The Ash Girl, Holes and Gossamer. She can also be seen in a number of national commercials and independent films. She has worked as a teaching artist with ASC, Gallery 37 and Metropolis Performing Arts Center

 

Scott Letscher
  Scott Letscher is currently the Managing Director of Adventure Stage Chicago. He was a company member of the late, lamented Terrapin Theatre for over ten years, where he served for two years as their Artistic Director. At Terrapin, he directed the After Dark Award-winning production of Aunt Dan and Lemon, the world premiere of Requiem in a Light Aqua Room by Sean Graney, The Rimers of Eldritch, The Sneeze and Public/Privacy. He appeared in the Terrapin productions Nina Variations, Blue Remembered Hills, The Pooka and Daniel O’Rourke, The Kramer and Laurel and Hardy Sleep Together. He also spent four years with the Children’s Theatre Fantasy Orchard as an actor and adaptor. He received a Theatre Arts degree from Marquette University.

 

Jana Liles
  Jana Liles came to Chicago after receiving her B.F.A. in Theatre from Emporia State University in her home state of Kansas. She completed her M.F.A. in Theatre from The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She has performed with such theatre companies as Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Light Opera Works, Quest Theatre Ensemble, The GreyZelda Theatre Group, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy and Adventure Stage Chicago, while also appearing in numerous films, local television programs and commercials. An accomplished singer and dancer, she has also been fortunate enough to perform in front of thousands of people at the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park. In addition to serving as ASC’s Marketing Coordinator, she is the Casting Director at BackStage Theatre Company.

 

Merissa Shunk
  Merissa Shunk has been with Adventure Stage Chicago since 2007 as the Director of Education. Before moving to Chicago she lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She is originally from sunny California where she studied theatre, taught theatre, and studied how to teach theatre at UCLA and Santa Clara University. She has freelanced as a curriculum writer and teaching artist for the Silk Road Theater Project, is the Fine Arts Curriculum Advisor at Rowe Elementary School, and has been a mentor (Drama Mama) in Redmoon Theater‘s Mentoring program, Drama Girls.  In fall of 2008 she co-founded the Chicago Arts Educator Forum and also serves on the board of the Illinois Theatre Association.

 

Brandon Wardell
  Brandon Wardell is a freelance Lighting and Scenic Designer in Chicago. He holds an MFA from Northwestern University and teaches at several universities, including Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, The University of Chicago, and Illinois Wesleyan. Recent lighting credits include The Hollow Lands (Steep Theatre), On An Average Day (Backstage Theatre Company), The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (Theatre Mir), John & Jen (Apple Tree Theatre), The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre) and The Blue House (ASC).  Scenic Designs include Maria’s Field (TUTA), In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Steep Theatre), Holes (ASC), Dracula (The Building Stage) and Be More Chill (Griffin Theatre). 

REVIEW: Evolution/Creation (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

Evolution/Creation is Unusual/Fascinating

 Evolution/Creation

Quest Theatre Ensemble presents:

Evolution/Creation

 

Written and directed by Andrew Park
Music by
Scott Lamps
Musical direction by Gary Powell
At Quest Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory
Thru March 28th (more info)

by Katy Walsh

Science/Religion. Explosion/Organic. Inevitable/Mystical. Quest Theatre presents Evolution/Creation, a theatrical experience for the senses. Upon arrival at the Quest Blue Theatre, each audience member receives a red or green wristband. The red tags enter the doorway marked “Evolution.” The green tags go to door #2, “Creation.” evolution4The theatre has been split into two sides with a nine member orchestra straddling the center dividing line. Two different plays perform simultaneously with shared music. After the intermission, the audience goes through the opposite assigned door to experience the flip side. With no spoken dialogue, Evolution/Creation is all about innovative imagery set to music. The show starts with dramatic Latin chorale singing  from scientists and monk types on each stage. They are separated by the band. As the actors stand from the kneeling position, the orchestra sits. Curtains rise on either side. The band and the other stage are no longer visible. In the beginning, there was….

First up, Creation! It’s the Genesis story plus the Noah tale to tell the origins of how the world began and began again. The cast is dressed in black with oversized paper mache heads. The strong religious overtones are represented with the Creator’s huge hands. Each day’s goal is announced with parchment type scrolls. Each day’s success is demonstrated with puppetry and nature. It’s a wholesome pageantry of seasons, stars, horses and other organic elements integrated in a sequential order of occurrence. Adam and Eve arrive on the scene, eat an apple and Eden is destroyed. The destruction continues with a flood survived by Noah and his animal selection. When the rain stops, creation the sequel happens again. The Creation play has a slow pacing innocence with familiar simplicity.

Later, Evolution! It’s the big bang version of how life started from nothing. Initially, a dancer clad in red pieces together ribbons to spell out “Love” and then continues until it spells “Evolve.” The cast is dressed in black with matching hoods. Darkness is a strong theme for the unknown. Rain, smoke, strobe/black lights are the multiple evolution3 techniques used to illustrate different advancements in life forms: lights to amoebas to dinosaurs. The narration of evolution is a projection of the process’ description over billions of years. Evolution is the edgier play representing a stark happenstance explanation of the world.

Both shows are the ultimate visual of the juxtaposition in these competing theories: science vs religion. One of the best moments occurs when Evolution briefly shows an overlap between theories on the monkey to human spectrum. Written and directed by Andrew Park, this is a fascinatingly unusual theatrical experience. It’s the coordination of two plays, eighteen cast members, and a nine piece orchestra, composed by Scott Lamps and directed by Gary Powell. It’s a show that could easily be viewed multiple times to determine all the nuisances. I’m still puzzling over the music score. Practically speaking, it seems like it has to be the same for both shows. But the plays are so different, the music must be too. I continue to be intrigued….

In their mission to “Inform, Delight, Inspire and Unite” the community, Quest Theatre experiences are free/donation. The audience is an eclectic combination of young/old. Families have an affordable opportunity/privilege. Unfortunately, it wasn’t cell phones that disrupted the performances’ flow on Saturday night. It was the constant chatter of two (8-10 year old) girls. NOTE to parents: If your children haven’t evolved into respectful audience members, you need to stick to children’s theatre or create a stay-at-home family night.

Rating: ★★★

 

Running Time: 80 minutes includes a ten minute intermission and a ten minute delayed start. Production is free – reservations recommended. (make reservation)

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