In any discussion of Jon Fosse's "Dream of Autumn," begin by eliminating words such as "linear" and "literal." The words are simple and the emotions evident, but time and place are more conceptual than concrete. Names? Who needs names? Characters are referred to as Woman, Man and Mother.
Quantum Theatre's route to "Autumn" for spring 2013 came when Karla Boos, founder and producer of the company, saw a lavishly produced adaptation in Paris. Although her French isn't fluent, she felt a deep connection to the abstract drama and was compelled not only to bring it home to Pittsburgh but also to make it a vehicle for her return to acting. Ms. Boos plays the Woman in the lyrical, adult drama, which centers on the graveyard encounter of former lovers.
The name Jon Fosse -- pronounced Fos-say -- is a marquee name in his native Norway, in France and throughout much of Europe, where there have been 900 productions of his works in 40 languages. To bring "Dream of Autumn" to American shores, Ms. Boos turned to Sarah Cameron Sunde, who had already been involved in four English-speaking productions of Mr. Fosse's work, with the playwright's blessing.
"I'm a director first and foremost but I became a translator because I wanted to do his work and I wanted it to be done well. I became very passionate about the art of translation," said Ms. Sunde, who in October directed a well-received off-Broadway production of the playwright's "A Summer's Day," starring Karen Allen.
She was commissioned to translate and Mladen Kiselov was to direct, but the Carnegie Mellon professor died in November, in the midst of preparations for the Quantum show.
"It's great that the production wanted to carry on and in late December, Karla called and said, please will you do it," Ms. Sunde said. "I said of course. There could be no other answer."
Both Ms. Sunde and Ms. Boos said that Kiselov's presence was felt as Narelle Sissons' designs for the set were being built in the former Park Schenley Restaurant in Oakland. A couple of weeks ago, the expanse resembled a Max Ernst landscape of furniture in quicksand, with stout columns interrupting the scene. Ms. Sissons had three projects under way with Kiselov at the time of his death.
"Their ideas were very fertile, but they were not calcified. There was room for another director, and Narelle was a nice bridge. Some of the ideas in the play probably originated with him, but nobody is keeping score," Ms. Boos said.
The cast includes Jennifer Tober, Martin Giles, Gregory Lehane and Laurie Klatscher, who were friends and colleagues of the late director.
"Because the play is about time colliding, past and present and future, and the dead being present with us, I think we all are in the process of believing he's somehow around, and we'd like to think he's approving. It has been only a positive thing to think about it that way," said Ms. Sunde.
Sitting in the quiet art-deco lobby of the Royal York, out of earshot of carpenters building sets and seating, the director could barely contain her excitement about her latest digs.
"I love the space," Ms. Sunde said. "I just got back from New York and I literally was, with everyone I saw, saying, 'Do you want to see a picture of my space? Narelle was here doing painting over the weekend and she sent me a picture, and I was like, 'Guys, see what you can do outside of New York?' "
By comparison, the show that Ms. Boos saw in Paris was staged first in the Louvre, because the director equated "Dream of Autumn's" graveyard setting with a museum. Spaces in the Louvre were then re-created on the stage of a grand theater later in the run of the lavish production.
For the Quantum production, Ms Sunde has been in touch with Mr. Fosse to show him the former restaurant transformed for his play. She said they have built up a trust and communicate much less since her first foray into his work -- and the United States' introduction as well -- a 2004 production of "Night Sings Its Songs" at 45 Bleecker in New York City. Ms. Sunde has many other projects under her belt; she visited Pittsburgh in 2011 as director of Jessica Dickey's one-woman show, "The Amish Project," at City Theatre.
"Dream of Autumn" is perhaps the most challenging of Mr. Fosse's plays brought to the stage by Ms. Sunde.
"We're in all of these places at one time," she said. "It's big, and hard to comprehend. With his work, always, there are people who love and connect with it, and people who will not, and I think that's OK. It's controversial, it's testiness, it's not easy."
A 2011 article by Brian Logan of the UK Independent addressed the Brit's relationship with his work in an article headlined, "Jon Fosse: All the world loves his plays. Why don't we?"
The answer might be as simple as the 53-year-old writer doesn't make it easy for us, but Ms. Boos and the Quantum audience are time-tested when it comes to challenging works.
It's worth noting that Mr. Fosse was a poet first, and that informs his dialogues' rhythms and timing. The words might be simple, but in some cases, a phrase will be repeated several times, and each time, by the way that it's said, it might build in emotion or change its meaning entirely -- not unlike everyday conversation.
"I feel [the audience] will get it, and the thing that is to be gotten is not within a linear plot structure. It lives somewhere else," Ms. Boos said. "It's quite clear what it's getting at. The characters are clear; what they want from each other in any given moment is clear. It's just that piecing it all together, it doesn't add up to a narrative like you're going to see on television. There have been a lot of comparisons of Fosse to other writers and the one to Beckett reads the most logical and true to me. If you try to describe the plot of 'Waiting for Godot' you will fail, but it's meaning is clear, in the moment, for audiences. This is like that."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.