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SEASONS (Times Square International Theater Festival 2012)

by Karen Tortora-Lee on January 23, 2012

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It isn’t easy to tell an entire story without one word of spoken dialogue, let alone give proper attention to two concurrent plots that run simultaneously but never intertwine, except emotionally.  Yet SEASONS does just that, and with such deep resonance that sold-out houses were sobbing as they watched the four central characters of Elaine Pechacek and Katie Hammond’s original musical live through one very specific year that, for them, was filled with love, joy, regret, confusion, despair, birth, and death.

When we first meet the four characters they are all about to experience Just One Moment that changes the trajectory of the path they’ve been on up until now – a moment which provides the basis of each character’s plot arc for this one pivotal year we are about to live through with them.

Helen (Kristyn Chalker) has just walked into her reunion and is in a mischievous mood, looking for a chance to feel like she can have any guy there. Peter (Kyle Szen), an earnest type who apparently didn’t measure up in high school, winds up being the guy that takes her home and can’t believe his good fortune.   Across town Mrs. Jones’ (Amy Arbizzani) whole life changes in just one moment as we find her reacting to the news that she has cancer.  Shocked and angry, she vows to get a second opinion.  Unaware of this new development Mrs. Jones’ daughter, Hope, (Katie Hammond) is leaving a message for her mother excitedly explaining that her boyfriend has proposed and in just one moment she has now become engaged and her world is filled with promise and possibility.  As the song progresses Helen finds she’s waking up nauseous — her one moment resulted in an unplanned pregnancy with her Mr. Right Now.  Beautifully setting the scene (as well as the tone)  we now know that this is going to be a roller-coaster of a year.

Peter is not only up for the challenge of being a father but is excited to prove that he can be the right man for Helen, so he proposes (Take You Away). Unsure of what else to do, Helen accepts, convincing herself that she can Make It Work. Making it work, in this case, includes deferring medical school and starting a life with a man she’s less than enthusiastic about.  Director Danny Williams creates a heartbreaking moment as Helen, steeling herself in the mirror, is unaware that Peter has walked in on her self-pep-talk; the look of hope that turns to hurt and then is quickly masked which dances across Kyle Szen’s face hit like a punch and layered in more subtext than any line of dialogue could have done.

As Hope prepares for her wedding, Mrs. Jones is having a harder time concealing her illness.  She convinces her daughter to Take A Walk with her and in a tumbling of words she explains her condition, but also stresses the importance of enjoying the moment … as she explains that she can fight as long as she has the support and love of her daughter. Hope is shocked and dismayed but knows can’t change what is inevitable.

Peter and Helen who have now wed (Wedding Bells) and are preparing for their child are living out marital bliss far less blissfully than Peter had hoped.  Helen, who is angry and bloated, is doing nothing to hide her resentment and bitterness, tossing aside the present Peter brings home for her. Peter, exasperated, explains that he’s been Working So Hard to make a life for her and the baby and begs her to stop shutting him out and start appreciating him for the good man he is.

Kristyn Chalker as Helen / Kyle Szen as Peter (photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation)

By mid play Helen is great with child and Mrs. Jones is sinking deeper into her illness after Hope’s wedding. Each women, in a pivotal moment when the life force actually moves from one story-line to the other, gives a truly showstopping performance as they rail against what is happening to their body; Helen (Push) screams with pain and fear as Peter stands by hoping to calm her through her delivery, while Mrs. Jones (Second Opinion)  screams in anger and frustration at this disease which is overtaking her and now looks like it will defeat her.  Both of these songs are star turns for the actresses – I was mesmerized by each as I watched Kristyn Chalker and Amy Arbizzani (respectively) belt out pain and frustration and hurt and anger and fear with such deep emotional accomplishment.  I think the entire audience was out of breath watching these two powerhouses live through these life changing events.

The third act finds Helen and Mrs. Jones far calmer as they make peace with the new changes in their lives; Helen sings her new daughter a Lullaby in which she expresses how truly astonished she is at how she could feel such love for her new daughter.  As Mrs. Jones is quietly dying in her own daughter’s arms she sings a peaceful song of letting go, advising her child Don’t Take For Granted the wonderful things life has to offer, the hidden moments of pleasure that are everywhere.

Amy Arbizzani as Mrs. Jones / Katie Hammond as Hope (Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation)

The final Lullaby (Reprise) has Helen singing lovingly to her baby daughter while Hope sings to her dying mother, the cycle of birth and death completed as each woman embraces what was brought with the seasons . (Song below is from an earlier showcase.)

As a musical team Elaine Pechacek and Katie Hammond are strong; they understand how to approach a complex issue and develop it in a way that gives it a foundation of truth as well as drama.  The melodies were not just catchy, hummable, and memorable but also richly layered with flavors and nuances that delviered a vivid emotional spectrum and allowed the audience to see  each character’s faults and failures as well as their triumphs.

It’s no wonder SEASONS was sold out almost before it was announced in the festival and that a fourth show had to be added.  I see a long life for this beautiful story – and hopefully many more Seasons of success for the team of Pechacek and Hammond.

SEASONS was featured as part of the Times Square International Theater Festival at the Roy Arias Studios & Theatres located at 300 W. 43rd St, NY, NY.


Written by: Elaine Pechacek and Katie Hammond
Director: Danny Williams
Music Director: Elaine Pechacek 

Roy Arias Theatre Center
300 W. 43rd St, NY, NY

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