The first hint that reality has taken a time out is the word "dream" in the title. Then you find the distinctive "Q" on the door along Dithridge Street and walk through to Quantum Theatre's version of an adventure in wonderland -- the former Park Schenley Restaurant in Oakland, transformed into a strange graveyard of lost furniture and exposed pipes. The once elegant expanse from Pittsburgh's recent past has been stripped to metal and concrete. The panoramic views of Oakland are left to be seen by actors and audience, but the space is now airy, eerie and whitewashed, from the corrugated ceiling and thick columns to the half-buried furniture and sandy floor.
Into this surreal landscape, Quantum has planted "Dream of Autumn," an abstract drama by playwright Jon Fosse, one of the most popular contemporary playwrights in Europe. Mr. Fosse's play closes the Norwegian-themed second half of the company's season, which was preceded by Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman."
It's not countryman Henrik Ibsen we see in relation to this haunting work, but the challenging likes of Ionesco and Beckett or Ingmar Bergman at his most existential.
Nothing is served on a platter here; the play demands concentration and imagination from actors and audience alike. If you come to "Dream of Autumn" with an appetite for easy answers, you'll leave unsatisfied.
From Mr. Fosse's sparse, often repetitive dialogue, written in free verse with no punctuation and with few instructions aside from the duration of pauses, must emerge a play that ponders some of life's biggest themes: love, longing and loss, and the implications of estrangement, loneliness and abandonment.
The script divulges that the play should take place in a graveyard and that there is a bench. With just that to go on, scenic and costume designer Narelle Sissons, working first with the late Mladen Kiselov and then director Sarah Cameron Sunde, the play's translator who jumped onboard when Kiselov died in November, has inserted the audience and cast into a haunting, exploratory space. There are columns to be negotiated by the actors, along with the detritus of people's lives -- an old-time radio, a bed frame, an armoire -- representing headstones.
The play never mentions a dream, but it often refers to "the darkness of autumn." Everyone is dressed for the weather except the mysterious, seductive Woman. Wearing only a lacy slip, she surprises the Man as he sits in the graveyard. She is alternately playful and sad, a question personified: Is she a spirit of the graveyard or a spirit of the Man's mind? Is she someone the Man has loved and conjured again out of a longing? Is she his idealized version of love and lust, or a manifestation of a bundle of feelings?
So many possibilities are embodied in one ethereal Karla Boos, who as the Woman steps lightly, balletically into the life of a ponderous and melancholy Man, played by the game-for-anything Martin Giles. He is charged with being the grounded center to the enigmas that surround him. Several times in the play he reacts as if hit by a bolt of lightning, a sign of a shift in ... what? Time? Memory? The circumstances of his life are parsed out in fits and starts, so we fill in the blanks or our thinking evolves with the doling out of information.
The enigmas surrounding him include the people who have been closest to him: vocally critical Mother (Laurie Klatscher) and oblivious Father (Gregory Lehane) and his wife, Gry (Jennifer Tober). He has abandoned them emotionally and physically, and he's about to hear all about it, a piling-on of guilt upon his drooping shoulders.
Ms. Klatscher, dressed in bright red and furs, is put to the test by having to say the same lines over and over -- "Is he coming to his grandmother's funeral?" "Do you think he will come?" "The years go by so fast." Her delivery is willful, pleading, over the top and welcome. You have to admire the concentration of the actors as they follow the beats of the language and light and sound cues by stage manager Scott T. Nelson from one improbable situation to the next.
The ever-questioning Man adds to our questions. He confides, "I don't know if I like love. I'm against love." Yet we see him reach for it and run from it, sometimes in the same breath.
Mr. Fosse's "Dream of Autumn" is a continuous game of questions without answers. He gives just enough to send you down a path; where it leads is up to you.theaterreviews
Sharon Eberson; firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. First Published April 10, 2013 4:00 AM