“We should feel good,” Steven Epp says as spring arrives at the beginning of “The 4 Seasons,” a comedy/drama whose three characters do not feel good at all.
Actually, they may be not three characters but three aspects of the same heartsick character. Collectively, Epp, Heidi Bakke and Joy Dolo are a sort of Everyperson who works at a hotel, hates it, worries about the state of the world, muses about philosophy and unloads big emotions but pays no attention to the troubles of others. The three bare their soul(s) throughout, but no one is listening.
“The 4 Seasons” shares that no-one-is-listening quality with the oeuvre of Anton Chekhov, whose work inspired this new piece and whose characters often seem to be in their own, individual plays. Also Chekhovian is the lack of plot.
Less play than poem (complete with dialogue that works like refrains), “4 Seasons” offers a late-arriving bit of information that forces change on the trio but, mostly, not much happens. The characters’ main job seems to be avoiding work, whether with the sort of games that laborers invent to get through drudgery (bright, white sheets loft through the air in a visually arresting game of linens volleyball) or with laments about their weariness at what Epp’s character calls the “fatuous, asinine, fetid daily vomit” that is our present level of discourse.
That all sounds like heavy lifting, but as “The 4 Seasons” moves from spring to summer to fall to winter, it maintains a playfulness, a lightness of spirit that counters the dark subject. Director Dominique Serrand and his collaborators have found ironic little jokes and gemlike bits of physical comedy, such as a visual pun when Bakke references Sisyphus while slumped over a garbage bin she appears to be trying to push up a hill and a quiet stunner that finds Epp surreally raking leaves in a hotel room.
Maybe this is just me starting to think about who’s going to shovel my driveway, but you’d think winter would be the darkest hour of “The 4 Seasons.” Instead, it’s when the trio — who have actively avoided both physical contact and the act of listening — begin to attend to each other and to pull each other close as they imagine a storm “that will clean everything.”
At the end of the show, spring approaches again — and the Antonio Vivaldi “Four Seasons” that has accompanied each scene gives way to Astor Piazzolla’s sprightly take on Vivaldi’s themes — and the characters do start to feel good. They hug. Bakke, who has repeatedly referenced the line from “The Seagull” about being in mourning for her life, suddenly imagines a future in which “we’ll realize we know how to live.”
Maybe they’re right to be optimistic. Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe it’s just stories they tell themselves to feel better. But, after all, isn’t that what hope is?