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Theater

Production sets Ibsen's 1892 masterpiece in 1958

| Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 4:27 p.m.
John Shepard and Hayley Nielsen in Quantum Theatre's 'The Master Builder'
J. Altdorfer Photography
John Shepard and Hayley Nielsen in Quantum Theatre's 'The Master Builder'
John Reilly and Thomas Constantine Moore in Quantum Theatre's 'The Master Builder'
J.Altdorfer Photography
John Reilly and Thomas Constantine Moore in Quantum Theatre's 'The Master Builder'

A once forward-looking office building with a troubled past, spectacular views of present-day Pittsburgh and a renovation plan that looks to the future is the site for Quantum Theatre's production of Henrik Ibsen's “The Master Builder.”

In collaboration with the Heinz Architectural Center of the Carnegie Museum of Art — as part of its yearlong focus on Modernism — Quantum will move Ibsen's drama from its 1892 beginnings to the mid-20th century, circa 1958.

The Heinz Architectural Center contacted Quantum with the idea of doing a classic play that could be moved into the Modernist era. Quantum Theatre's artistic director Karla Boos suggested “The Master Builder.”

“I had always wanted to do the play (and) to delve deeply into the psychosis of each of its characters,” Boos says.

Martin Giles, who is directing the production, says he prefers the terms “spiritual crises or psychic crises of the era” to define what all of the characters are going through. “There's so much to untangle, to understand,” he says.

The production will be created on the gutted, glass-enclosed ninth floor of Building Two of Nova Place, a now largely empty and boarded-up North Side shopping and office complex that most area residents still think of as Allegheny Center.

New owners, the real-estate firm Faros Properties, hope a planned $100 million renovation will give the once-iconic complex a new life in the 21st century.

Plans for Nova Place suggest and support many of the issues and themes presented in “The Master Builder” Boos says.

The drama explores the ambitions, jealousies, fantasies and regrets of Halvard Solness, a successful architect whose buildings were once both inspiring and daring. Now middle-aged, he has become jealous and wary of the young, imaginative artists and is haunted by guilt for some of the actions that made him prominent.

When Hilda Wangel, a seductive but independent young woman from his past, arrives at his office, she bolsters his ego, as well as his feverish imagination.

“I thought it would be interesting if it takes place in 1958,” Giles says. “A woman wearing a flannel shirt looks like a hippie and (Solness') wife is dressed like the 1940s. It seems a potentially serviceable time.”

Boos liked the way themes and ideas in the drama related to the space.

The former Allegheny Center complex, Boos says, “is both controversial and a master-built urban piece of our collective past and the site of imaginative thinking about change.”

But what sold Boos and Giles on the ninth-floor location was the view from the glass windows that wrap around all four sides of the now raw, unfinished space. “As many (vistas) I have seen of Pittsburgh, this knocked my socks off,” Boos says.

Those attending the production can park in the garage beneath the building by entering through Gate 6.

Alice Carter is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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