Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

The People's Four Seasons
Quest Theatre Ensemble

Also see John's review of Working and Richard's review of The Master and Margarita

Debbie Ruzicka, John Ruhaak and Justin Burns
The Quest Ensemble, which has taken on projects ranging from Broadway musicals to royalty-free comedies and original adaptations, has of late focused on philosophical pageants. The People's Four Seasons is their third consecutive show of this type. That string began with Evolution/Creation which boldly portrayed those competing theories of man's origins side by side without comment. Last fall, their Drum Circle Pandora merged the story of Pandora's Box with the Allegory of Plato's Cave, suggesting that the evils of mankind never jump mysteriously from a box, but have always been around. They only seem new when we become aware of them. With Four Seasons, the third time's the ... what's the opposite of "third time's the charm"?

In this new pageant, Director Andrew Park and composer Scott Lamps, writers of the two aforementioned shows, explore the stages of man. It's a topic that's sorta been done before—by the Bible and Shakespeare, so it's kind of hard to compete with those two sources in finding something new to say. Park sets his pageant between a series of realistic scenes between an elderly man and his adult daughter. They're preparing to move the man from his longtime home into an assisted living facility, and as they pack, the man looks out a window at the tree in his yard which has been around forever and will probably outlive them all. He reflects on his life at four different points, or seasons: his birth and childhood (Spring), adolescence and young adulthood (Summer), marriage and parenthood through emptying the nest (Autumn) and finally the death of his wife and his impending move from his home (Winter). Each of these reflections is set to music by Lamps, who did much better work in his earlier shows. His melodies here sound like liturgical music and the uncredited lyrics are banal beyond belief. Examples: a Thanksgiving song repeats "I'm thankful for you, you're thankful for me" ad nauseum while a love song rhymes "love" with "above" more than once, which would have been one time too many.

The uncredited lyrics, like most everything else in these scenes, are entirely predictable. The figures on stage are too generic to be called characters, with nothing unique or individual happening to them.  There are some inspired moments in Nick Rupard's visual design and puppetry, to be sure.  The first is a parade of ant puppets on the march, stealing food from the little boy's picnic. The second shows a giant puppet spider weaving a web that will entrap a butterfly. I've often thought Quest's visual creativity rivaled the invention of the likes of The Lion King's Julie Taymor for less than a fraction of her budgets. With Ms. Taymor's current Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark musical on Broadway, the comparison with Taymor is even more dramatic. Quest and designer can do magic with $65.00 dollars, while she apparently needs a million times that to do her work. Plus, so far as I know, no one was injured while performing as Quest's spider.

The scenes between the father and daughter are warmly played by John Ruhaak and Debbie Ruzicka. Ruhaak's performance is moving, though most of his dialogue sounds more like a poetic narration than a dramatic script. Fair enough—perhaps the father is a retired writer or university professor. I would like to have learned more about him. Parks comes close to giving us real characters in the father and daughter, and there's one moment, when the father suggests that the daughter and her husband move in with him so he can stay in his home, that is quite touching. Had Park chosen to make his point through more specific characters and situations rather than deliberately going for generic symbols, he might have had a more engaging production.

Quest, of course, is also known for the fact that they perform for free—asking no admission, but gladly accepting donations. As such, they attract a lot of families to their shows and the small children in attendance were transfixed by the puppetry in the hour-long show. If you bring the kids and go in with that expectation—or go just to see what the inventive and risk-taking Park and Rupard are up to now—it may be worth your while.  But if you haven't seen Quest before, know that their track record is of more interesting shows than this.

Four Seasons will be performed through March 27 at Quest's Blue Theater (1609 W. Gregory).  Performances are every Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm  Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated and reservations are highly recommended. For more information, please visit or call 312.458.0895 Ext. 3 for reservations.

Photo: Jeremy Lawson

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