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Quantum Theatre keeps its production of 'Pantagleize' moving, funny

| Monday, April 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Heather Mull
Randy Kovitz and Abdiel Vivancos in Quantum Theatre's 'Pantagleize'
Heather Mull
Tony Bingham and Weston Blakesley in Quantum Theatre's 'Pantagleize'

Two popular sayings kept running through my head during “Pantagleize”: The Beatles' lyric “You say you want a revolution?” and the cautionary warning, “Be careful what you wish for, for surely it shall be yours.”

Quantum Theatre's bitterly funny production, which is playing inside a vacant office space in Point Breeze, is a fresh and free adaptation of Michel de Ghelderode's 1931 play “Pantagleize.”

If you were a student or fan of theater in the '60s and early '70s you most likely encountered de Ghelderode's original as an example of European expressionism that was then all the rage.

When read today, de Ghelderode's text feels stodgy and leaden with big fat blocks of text and some embarrassing racial stereotyping. But its messages remain persistent and timely.

Fortunately for theatergoers, Jay Ball has adapted the work for contemporary audiences in collaboration with Jed Allen Harris, who directed the Quantum Theatre production.

In a fast, witty and insightful one hour and 45 minutes, the play explores the politics and perils of revolutions brought about by people who act on impulse with no thought for consequences.

After a silent and suspicious airport control officer issues you a ticket, you enter Ball and Harris' world through an unoccupied encampment not unlike those that protesters set up during Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring. You then proceed to the actual performance space that could be an abandoned office space or the arrivals area of an airport somewhere in Eastern Europe in a time that could be contemporary or mid-1960s.

The action begins as Pantagleize (that's pronounced Pant-a-glaze), a marginally successful American poet, arrives to be the honored guest or king of the country's spring festival.

Lacking any knowledge about the country he's visiting, Pantagleize unwittingly turns the festival's revelers into revolutionaries. Euphoria, brutal repercussions and regrets follow swiftly.

Harris directs a first-rate cast of 10 with speed and subtlety.

Randy Kovitz does a masterful job as the self-absorbed but benignly intentioned Pantagleize, creating havoc in a situation for which he has no understanding.

Also impressive is Lisa Ann Goldsmith as the fiercely fearless revolutionary Rachel. She's a strong, but ultimately vulnerable opponent for Tony Bingham's Presidente, the country's manipulative despot.

Bingham's Presidente is at his best during a Skype session when seeking advice from four high-profile fellow tyrants such as Argentina's Augusto Pinochet and Uganda's Idi Amin. Bingham plays the quartet of despots on video recordings with which he interacts in real time as Presidente.

Abdiel Vivancos and Sam Turich also give interesting performances as the revolutionaries Baboosh and Pest, as does Weston Blakesley as Presidente's henchman Krip.

The time period of the play's world is not always clear. It shifts without warning between present day and a mid-60s era when Beat poet Allen Ginsberg actually went to Czechoslovakia on the eve of revolution there.

That's most likely intentional.

As Kovitz's Pantagleize points out in a final reading of his poetry, the issues and problems raised in this tale defy the boundaries of nations, time periods and good, but reckless, intentions.

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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