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Quantum Theatre gets ambitious for 'Tamara'

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Heather Mull | Quantum Theater
From left: Ethan Hova, Fermin Suarez, Rachael McKeon, Robert Turano and Ken Bolden star in Quantum Theatre's 'Tamara.' The play is being staged on the grounds of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.
Heather Mull | Quantum Theater
From left: Robert Turano, Cathryn Dylan, Robin Abramson, Ethan Hova, Megan Mackenzie Lawrence, Ken Bolden, Fermin Suarez and Tammy Tsai star in Quantum Theatre's 'Tamara.' The play is being staged on the grounds of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.
Heather Mull | Quantum Theater
Fermin Suarez and Robin Abramson star in Quantum Theatre's 'Tamara.' The play is being staged on the grounds of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.

In what could be its biggest production ever, Quantum Theatre will stage John Krizanc and Richard Rose's “Tamara” in 15 locations on three floors of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.

Since its founding in 1990, Quantum has earned a reputation for intriguing and adventurous works in unexpected and nontheatrical spaces. It's a mission that was influenced in part by the company's founder and artistic director Karla Boos' contact with “Tamara.”

Boos and John Shepard, who is directing this production, first saw “Tamara” in the 1980s during its nine-year run at an American Legion Hall in Los Angeles.

“I always thought ‘Tamara' would be the perfect project for Quantum's nature and perfect for what Karla does with the company,” Shepard says.

The action takes place during a weekend house party in 1927 inside an elegant Italian villa owned by poet, political provocateur womanizer and cocaine addict Gabriele D'Annunzio.

The 1907 landmark Rodef Shalom, designed by architect Henry Hornbostel, has been cast as the villa with many of its rooms repurposed for the production.

The imposing second-floor board room will serve as D'Annunzio's sumptuous bedroom. The atrium will be the villa's foyer. An entrance hall will be transformed into a formal dining room. Other spaces, such as the library and one of the building's offices, won't change function but may be outfitted with props and antiques from the period.

The play is based on entries from the diary of D'Annunzio's housekeeper and letters written by D'Annunzio and the famed Art Deco artist Tamara de Lempicka. “These are very colorful, real characters from history,” Boos says.

After being greeted with a glass of champagne, audience members will be treated as guests and given license to literally follow any of the play's 10 characters — servants or guests — as they go about their lives, intrigues and liaisons in the villa.

“It's all very melodramatic — guns going off, sex, violence, meltdowns,” Shepard says. “It's about power, both sexual and political.”

In some immersive theater works such as Punchdrunk's recent “Sleep No More” in New York City or Bricolage's 2012 production of Strata, individual scenes loop or repeat in separate locations as audience members visit them.

But “Tamara” is more akin to 10 plays that run simultaneously with interlocking characters that travel between locations.

While some will see D'Annunzio and his housekeeper cooking an omelet in the kitchen, others may discover a spy who's plotting in a basement bedroom.

“I love the idea of choice,” Shepard says. “You are not just presented with a play. You have to make choices about what play you want to see. ... We are asking the audience to take a more proactive stance.”

No audience interaction is required, he says. “It's very voyeuristic.”

“It has been described as a living movie,” Shepard says. “It's as though the audience is a camera: a person interests you that you want to follow? You then follow them as if you are a camera following a track.”

No one will see all the scenes. But everyone will see a complete work, Shepard and Boos say.

Some characters require more energy to follow as they rush up and down stairs from servants' quarters in the basement to D'Annunzio's second-floor bedroom, Boos says. For those with mobility challenges, Quantum's artists have arranged a less-strenuous track that provides a full experience while remaining on the ground.

The audience will come together in spaces such as the atrium, the oratorio or the dining room to observe pivotal moments as well as during the dinner break that takes place near the middle of the performance.

For the dinner — two courses, dessert and a glass of wine — Quantum has partnered with six restaurateurs and caterers: Casbah, Stagioni and Open Bottle Bistro are among them.

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

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