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Review: Audience must conceive its own reality for 'Dream of Autumn'

| Sunday, April 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Heather Mull
Karla Boos in Quantum Theatre's 'Dream of Autumn'
Heather Mull
Jennifer Tober in Quantum Theatre's 'Dream of August.'

The spirit and enigmas of Samuel Beckett live on in Jon Fosse's “Dream of Autumn.”

Past, present and possibly the future intersect, interact and present themselves for contemplation in a vast, barren and deserted landscape in Quantum Theatre's production of this contemporary drama by a Norwegian playwright.

While little known in the United States, Fosse is revered in much of the rest of the world, where his plays have been translated into more than 40 languages.

Sarah Cameron Sunde, the play's director and translator, introduces Fosse to us in what's billed as the world premiere of her translation, which makes eloquent use of Fosse's signature pauses and renders his dialogue into American English.

“Dream of Autumn” is set in a cemetery where a man and a woman meet amongst the broken and lopsided bits of furniture that serve as tombstones. Eventually they are joined by three others — the man's mother and father and his first wife.

Time moves backward and forward throughout. It's up to the audience to construct and interpret their own timeline and piece together what's happening.

It can be emotionally exhausting, as almost everyone is in almost continual crisis and contentious relationships. They hunger for love and understanding while pushing each other away and substituting pointless chit-chat for real communication.

As in real life, the cemetery is an apt setting for the contemplation of the play's overriding themes — life, death, love, family.

An hourglass suspended from the ceiling at the play's start indicates the passage of time as it seeps away without respect to the action and emotions that go on around it.

Those are big issues, and Quantum has chosen a vast space on which to explore them — the depths of the Royal York apartment building that the elegant Park Schenley restaurant once occupied.

Longtime Pittsburghers who remember special-occasion meals there will be hard pressed to recognize it in its present form. Once familiar, it now defies memory. Were those windows always there? Was the ceiling really that low?

It's a space seemingly in limbo, frozen in mid-demolition. Exposed electrical cables sag from the ceiling above uneven concrete floors and subterranean walkways.

Scenic designer Narelle Sissons, lighting designer C. Todd Brown and sound designer Joe Pino capitalize on the vastness of the space and its shattered state.

It allows characters to materialize and evaporate much as they do in dreams or memories or to linger in the background while others command attention.

Huge support columns occasionally obscure actors in mid-scene, clearly a directorial choice.

Depending on your point of view — both dramaturgically and as an observer, the choice either adds an element of eeriness through disembodied voices or serves as an irritant.

It's up to the audience to interpret the drama's many paradoxes, such as the fact that life is simultaneously very long and very short.

That's also true of the production itself. It plays without intermission in one hour and 40 minutes.

But for those packed tightly together on Quantum's folding chairs, it can also feel like an eternity.

However, the cast of five do a remarkable job of maintaining the play's tension and its many enigmas, chief of which is whether Karla Boos' Woman is simply the Man's lover or a metaphor for death.

Whether it's either or both, she's an enticing temptation.

The always interesting Martin Giles is properly indecisive and ambivalent as the Man.

Laurie Klatscher and Gregory Lehane inject vibrant conflict, color and tension as Woman and Mother, as does Jennifer Tober as Gry, Man's former wife.

Ultimately what you take away from “Dream of Autumn” is very personal.

It's a build-it-yourself project that's constructed through individual interpretation and understanding.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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