Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
These unnamed characters, played by Moving Company actors Heidi Bakke, Joy Dolo and Steven Epp, work as laborers at an upscale hotel. At various times they make beds, vacuum, deliver room service, repair plumbing, and do other tasks. We also see them during breaks: those scheduled by management and those they seize for themselves, like using the hotel swimming pool when there are no guests around. They make idle chatter which invariably leads to expressions of despair over the monotony of their workaday lives, the futility of any effort to change the recurring pattern of their existence, and their feelings of oppression at the hands of those who wield power.
Yet, for all their wailing, they seem to find a safety net in the immutability of their designated roles, as if familiar forms of misery are safer and more secure than stepping out into the unknown in search of happiness. They are prone to long monologues, rants really, on a point that troubles them, spouting out to one or both of their comrades who dutifully absorb the deluge of words with little in the way of response They are not a cheery threesome, though they findand provide us withsome moments of amusement that help them endure their existential pain. Some of these are quite clever indeed, such as a bit with Epp kibitzing while Bakke repairs a clogged toilet, or Dolo's balletic persistence in vacuuming a hallway in spite of various intrusions, or the three tossing soiled linens in rapid fire. Moving Company productions always make sublime use of physical imagery, finding comedy, poignancy or both in movements and gestures, and those talents are certainly put to splendid use by this cast, under the guiding hand of director Dominique Serrand.
In addition to the meteorological seasons, The 4 Seasons draws its title from two compositions that provide a soundtrack to the transit from spring to summer to fall to winter and back to spring. Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi's well known quartet of concerti, "The Four Seasons," is heard extensively throughout most of the play. Its stateliness serves to anchor the ricocheting emotions of the three workers onto a landscape of civility. At times it is used with great wit, as when Epp finally unclogs the toilet Bakke has been struggling withinstead of the sound of flushing, we hear a piece of Vivaldi.
Near the end of the play, Astor Piazzolla's set of tango compositions known collectively as "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," provides an atmosphere of intrigue and melancholy as the trio complete a full ride around the cycle of the year, facing yet another spin. However, the familiarity they both dread and rely upon is blocked by a shocking turn of events, which forces the threesome to reconsider their positions on the wheel of life as for the first time in memory they are faced with making decisions about what comes next.
All three actors excel at The Moving Company's brand of quirky narrative that takes scenes of mundane life and draws abstractions from them that make something universal out of small, specific moments. They also are adept at the physical comedy and the wordplay that inflates The 4 Seasons with buoyancy to counteract the dreariness it depicts. Each of the cast members presents a persona throughout. Steven Epp is whiny, ruminating about the past and loathe to consider anything better for the future. In one intense monologue, Epp talks about what a great kid he was, then bit by bit lets us know how that "great kid" became the miserable man we see before us. Joy Dolo is the activist of the group, railing against injustice, such as a fairly straightforward diatribe that invoked testimony lodged against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at his recent confirmation hearings. Heidi Bakke tries valiantly to be optimistic, and find way to declare her cup as half full, but time and again, dissolves into despair. Her pals are no help to her: at one point she wonders, in all sincerity, "What if I'm already happy?" to which Dolo and Epp respond in unison, without skipping a beat "You're not."
Serrand creates wonderful stage imagery using the spare but ingenious set (which he designed with Safa Sarvestani), props, and his actors. A hotel swimming pool and its surrounding deck arrive almost by magic, with the actors convincingly swimming and splashing with utter delight. Sonya Berlovitz' costumes provide just enough alteration from scene to scene to acknowledge the passing seasons. Marcus Dilliard's lighting design and Justin Burk's sound design, including the use of the Vivaldi and Piazolla musical "Four Seasons", contribute to a vibrant theatrical work that is crisp and clean, seesawing between wit that is sometimes loopy, and introspection that scrapes against the pain of lives without meaning. These two elements continuously spar with one another. The despair is made to seem comical, while the humor is a desperate effort to heal the wounded spirits.
The 4 Seasons provides a constantly engaging procession of images and witticisms, but the piece lacks a sense of purpose. We are soon very familiar with the desperation felt by these three characters, and we just as soon recognize their foolishness. They are not given any context that would allow us to think that any one of them might actually be capable of change. Their misery becomes tiresome when there is no impulse to rise above it. In actual human society, change is possible and people can break away from treadmills of unhappy thinking and co-dependent relationships. That is, for me, the disappointing aspect of this work: for all the intelligence, creativity and artistry that went into its formation, the outcome is nil. I did not find myself moved by these characters, certainly not delighted by them, nor did I learn anything from them. I did, however, greatly enjoy watching them display the wit and theatrical gifts shared by the director, actors, and creative team that devised The 4 Seasons.
The Moving Company's The 4 Seasons, through December 2, 2018, at The Lab Theater, 700 1st Street North, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $32 $20.00 for student. For tickets call 612-333-7977 or go to www.thelabtheater.org.
Conceived by: Steven Epp, Dominique Serrand and Nathan Keepers; Director: Dominique Serrand; Set Design: Safa Sarvestani and Dominique Serrand; Costume Design: Sonya Berlovitz; Lighting Design: Marcus Dilliard; Associate Lighting Designer: Alex Clark; Sound Design: Justin Burk; Props: Nathan Keepers and Steven Epp; Stage Manager: Madilynn Garcia; Assistant Director: Emma Halper; Music: Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla.
Cast: Heidi Bakke, Joy Dolo and Steven Epp