Karla Boos as Woman in "Dream of Autumn" Photo Credit Quantum Theatre
Live theater can do many things - entertain, inspire, teach, document and stimulate thought and action.
"Dream of Autumn," a 1999 play by Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse, currently getting its Pittsburgh debut in a Quantum Theatre production, does many of these almost simultaneously.
Even before the non-existent curtain goes up, a mood of dread is invoked by the subterranean feel of the setting. Quantum Theatre likes to find interesting venues across the city to stage its plays, and the current site in what used to be a Pittsburgh landmark restaurant, the venerable Park Schenley, is unrecognizable in its present guise.
The cavernous, gray, concrete and exposed beam chamber comes with a musty, metallic, earthy odor that reinforces the bleakness of the surreal set designed by Narelle Sissons that only vaguely suggests the author’s intended graveyard. Up front, a long unpretentious bench sits obliquely to the audience, off-putting and indifferent to the observers. Scattered in back over a large expanse are an old radio from, what, the 1930s?, an armoire, a table askew as if taken from a Dali painting.
Mood established, the dream begins with the entrance of Man, alone in the graveyard, not particularly intimidated by the spooky surroundings, lost in his own musings. A train passes by, setting Man off on a assortment of captivating physical contortions, as though jolted by a bolt of electricity into a seizure.
Veteran Pittsburgh actor Martin Giles, dressed for the season in a frumpy overcoat, soon encounters a nymph-like apparition (Karla Boos as Woman), dressed skimpily in a satiny slip, who skims over the sandy ground in bare feet like a classic goddess. The contrast between the two is vividly poignant; Giles’ Man is rough, raw and frenetic, Boos’ Woman is all lithe, elegant, and lyrical. Despite their differences, both seem to feel a mutual attraction.
The playwright treats time much as it gets its due in dreams, non-linear and non-sequential. Time is fluid, and we learn bits and pieces about both characters and their vague romantic relationship in a haphazard time frame in discourses that cover subjects like Love, Death, Loss and Sex.
Mother (Laurie Klatscher) and Father (Gregory Lehane) arrive en scene, dressed to the nines, through the wardrobe no less, carrying a glass vial and preparing to attend the burial of Father’s Mother. The parents await their son in the cemetery with the impatience and, at times the listlessness, of Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s "Waiting for Godot, a playwright whose style is often compared to that of Fosse.
As in Beckett’s opus, the characters, especially Mother repeat their lines time and again like an obsession that won’t let go. "Will he come?" she keeps asking Father, worried that her distant son will miss his grandmother’s internment, but really clinging to the distress caused by his emotional estrangement.
Man’s withdrawal from close human relationships is further accented by the arrival of his wife, Gry (Jennifer Tobler), the only character in the play with a non-generic name. Petulant and scolding, Gry doesn’t hesitate to show her dissatisfaction with her estranged husband.
Director Sarah Cameron Sunde, who translated the work from the Norwegian, utilizes the extreme reaches of the makeshift theater having the characters sometimes descend a concrete staircase at the front of the stage, emerge from unseen corridors to the rear, even climb somewhat precariously, in Woman’s case, from the lower floor to the upper stage. Throughout the play, sound designer Joe Pino heightens the dream-like tone of the drama with an assortment of arresting aural content.
Well acted, well directed and buttressed by a superb job on the part of the technical team, "Dream of Autumn" is a play for theater connoisseurs, people who take pleasure in intellectual stimulation and those for a taste for things outside the ordinary. "Sound of Music" it’s not. What exactly it is I leave up to the audiences.
The play runs through April 28. For tickets, phone 888-718-4253..