By Jori Waldron
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
This famous poem by William Shakespeare is the inspiration for Quest Theatre Ensemble’s newest original musical, All the World’s a Stage.
Beginning with a recitation of the poem, which describes how man goes through seven stages throughout his life, the stages become the outline for the performance. Starting with birth, then moving to childhood, coming of age, adulthood, middle age, aging and, finally, remembrance, the production’s seven actors use stories from their own lives to create this unique endeavor.
The most amazing thing about Quest Theatre is that all its performances are absolutely free. The company suggests making reservations because of the limited number of seats, but how many places offer free anything anymore?
Take advantage of this quaint performance space in the basement of the St. Gregory Church. Quest sets up the room in a traditional fashion for this show, with a low stage on one side and a curtain in front. Painted scenery looks like bricks, and projected images on the back wall enhance various scenes. Many of the pictures are actual photographs belonging to the cast portraying the events that they recall from their lives.
The play mirrors the tone of Into the Woods, in that it starts much more light-heartedly, with act two becoming very dark. That’s hard to avoid when most of the second act memories shared include deaths of family members. A few songs are scattered throughout the show, but this isn’t a typical musical. Several cast members sing original numbers, including “Finding My Voice” by Molly LeCaptain, which is definitely her best contribution to the performance, as she played guitar and showcased her true voice vs. imitating many other singers.
All of the cast members remain onstage for basically the entire performance, watching one another’s monologues and laughing and crying along with them. Periodically, they come together and assist in the scenes being portrayed or sing the theme song to the performance.
The two strongest scenes are performed by Hannah Starr, who not only bares her soul in very personal ways but does so in the least rehearsed and most gripping ways. In “No Regrets” she speaks openly of her struggle with alcohol, and in “Singing at Funerals” she humorously explains this side job she sometimes offers to grieving families.
Kent Joseph scripted his three scenes the most masterfully in that they come full circle and tie together in the end. A father of three, he describes several poignant moments to which many parents can relate.
Vince Lonergan’s stories may not be as relatable, but his description of an experience milking cows in the barn paints a vivid picture that audience members will wish they could get out of their heads.
A newcomer to theater, Kiki Ciesielski ably shows off her dancing talents amidst her stories of love and loss involving her husband.
Darcie Bender-Hubber adds a great deal of enthusiasm to the group. Not only does she describe marriage and infertility in ways that either hit home with some audience members or make others appreciate what they have, but she also sympathizes with other cast members, crying quietly during several other vignettes.
Nate Buursma tries to keep his scenes a little lighter and adds more light to what becomes a depressing theatrical experience. Many audience members were greatly moved and cried throughout the last few scenes.
This show speaks to everyone, as most have all gone through many of these stages, although Quest suggests that no children under 12 attend, due to the mature subject matter.
While All the World’s a Stage at times feels like a therapy session in the way these actors pour their hearts out about the travesties they have lived through in their lives, the production is a testament. Good for them for having the courage to do so. This is a one-of-a-kind look into other people’s lives with a focus on survival, and pointing out that the best way to survive is to surround yourself with love.
Quest Theatre Ensemble presents “All the World’s a Stage,” Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, through March 20, at the The Blue Theater, 1609 W. Gregory, Chicago. Admission and parking are free. Reserve seats by phone at (312)458-0895 or online here.