Quantum wants to make 'The Task' tick
Larry John Myers, right, Larry Powell, Tony Bingham and the rest of the Quantum Theatre cast will work "The Task" at the Gage Building in the Strip.
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"The Task" represents another notch in the belt of Quantum Theatre's mission, now in its 19th year.
The theater's online history includes such phrases as "an incubator for the amazing" and an introduction to "artists forging new theatrical ground." Found spaces that suit the work are part and parcel of the Quantum experience.
In "The Task," a work by the Heiner Muller, Quantum artistic director Karla Boos and director Jed Allen Harris found a playwright and a play that combined the elements that make her theater tick.
Muller, the prolific 20th-century German writer, poet and theater director, represented a personal convergence for Ms. Boos and Mr. Harris. They had led parallel theater lives in Pittsburgh until now and for their first collaboration, they wanted to explore a playwright who had influenced them both.
When a work by Iranian-born American playwright Reza Abdoh didn't pan out, "we then thought immediately about the great experimenter, Heiner Mueller ... and 'The Task' is perhaps his most accessible work. Its main idea -- what is the cost of revolution? -- makes it very current," Ms. Boos said.
The story and characters might seem simple enough on the surface: three fighters from the French Revolution meet in Jamaica to incite enslaved islanders to revolt. The trio is comprised of an aristocratic son of slave owners, a white peasant and a black slave. The play is about the journey each takes on the path toward revolt, with a mid-play, Kafka-esque detour to the inner thoughts of an anxious office worker who is anticipating an important mission from his boss.
"On the page it compelled me. I was right inside it," Ms. Boos said. "I followed its journey even though its journey was mysterious, and I got great rewards for the effort. It's all about ideas and images. It's very idiosyncratic, an abstract play on the page."
To bring the play to life for an audience, she said, "Great minds have come together in a great space."
In this case, the great (with the dual-meaning vast here) space is the industrial Gage Building on 30th Street and Liberty Avenue in the Strip, the site of the Quantum production "Quake" in the 2002-03 season.
The audience will move with the actors through a series of installations created by the team of set designer Narelle Sissons, sound designer Joe Pino, lighting designer Todd Brown and costume designer Susan Tsu.
"The play -- and the things we're trying to get at through the play and the experiment of the play -- always comes first with us," Ms. Boos said. "Then we try to solve every other problem around it. We're in this fantastic building, this Heiner Muller play is kind of episodic, we have these incredible designers. This whole team, sort of the stars of the CMU design program, when they saw this wonderful building they immediately wanted to move the audience through the episodic journey of this play."
The traveling audience might recall the Teatro de los Sentidos in the Ellis School Armory from the 2007 Festival of Firsts, and perhaps as a sensual experience, Quantum's guided tour through "The Museum of Desire and Flowers in a Corner," at the Frick Art & Historical Center a couple of years back.
As a practical matter, the design limits the audience at any given performance, "but Quantum is already an intimate experience," Ms. Boos said. "That doesn't feel hugely out of the realm of what we do."
Unlike traditional theater companies, where rehearsal is often in one space and the actors eventually move onto the stage as another production movies out, Quantum chooses its environments contingent on being in the space from Day 1.
"It makes a huge difference," Ms. Boos said. "You have to explore how potent that relationship can be; we're responding to the environment in a way that it's a mix of theater and reality: the sound of the actors' footsteps in this expanse, the natural light, the smell, the feel of the room all have to be experienced."
The cast includes veteran Pittsburgh actor Larry John Meyers, making his Quantum debut in the role of wealthy slave owner Debuisson. "He is brilliant, a leader like his character is," Ms. Boos said. Filling out the revolutionary trio are other Quantum newcomers: Larry Powell portrays the slave in revolt, Sasportas, and Tony Bingham, the peasant Galloudec.
The audience will join the actors as they move "from place to place, episode to episode, because each experience is a window into this journey," Ms. Boos said.
"Everyone's experience of it is going to be very individual, but each window has echoes of the other. You have this richly sensual experience as you move through the building, all at the service of ideas."
First Published April 22, 2010 12:00 am