Review: Quantum Theatre’s production of ‘All the Names’ takes work by the audience, but it’s worth it
Quantum Theatre has chosen an apt setting for its production “All the Names.”
The original, now decommissioned, Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny on what is now the North Side was once the impressive home to thousands of books. To a young reader such as myself, it seemed that anyone on a quest for answers was sure to find them somewhere within its rows and rows of hardbacks.
Sadly, all those shelves and books are gone, leaving only empty rooms, a whiff of old paper and a company of artists on a journey of their own.
Actually, several journeys are under way.
One follows Senhor Jose, the central character in Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago’s novel. A clerk in a registry office who records the basic facts of life and death on index cards, he becomes intrigued by a woman on one of the cards. He embarks on a journey to learn more about her.
To bring the story from flat page to three-dimensional stage, a group of experienced Pittsburgh artists have been on their own year-long journey.
Quantum Theatre founder and artistic director Karla Boos and Barbara Luderowski, the founder and co-director of the Mattress Factory, have collaborated with lighting designer Cindy Limauro, sound designers Christopher M. Evans and Sarah Pickett, dramaturge Megan Monaghan, costume and scenic designer Narelle Sissons and projection designer Joe Seamans to turn Saramago’s reflective, interior narrative into a vivid multisensory piece of installation art.
Oversize furniture, walls covered in crumpled paper and battered file cabinets set the scene. Images flash over light tables, whispers burble in the background, traffic moves along the walls and a crack in the ceiling becomes a spirited debate partner.
The purpose of the journey may not be immediately apparent to those who have not read the novel. But, by the time they reach the final destination, they will most likely have formed their own ideas about what Saramago is trying to tell us.
For much of the performance, Senhor Jose is played by two actors — Mark C. Thompson and James Fitzgerald — who work in tandem or opposition displaying the clerk’s different facets as he breaks into a school, stands up to his boss and visits with a shepherd in a cemetery.
The remaining roles are played by Bridget Conor, who plays all the women Senhor Jose visits; Cameron Knight, who plays The Registrar, Senhor Jose’s boss; and David Levine, who plays the Shepherd.
There’s a third journey taking place, as well.
The audience physically follows Senhor Jose on his mission, going up stairs and down through a series of rooms as he fills in the blanks about the unknown woman’s life.
At times, the audience sits around one of the two raked playing areas or follows the clerk on television monitors. At others, the audience stands and watchs or moves through a space.
While there are accommodations for those who find walking and climbing stairs difficult, the complete experience requires several trips up steep stairs.
At two hours and 45 min-utes, it’s a long journey that can be physically and mentally demanding, even though Quantum does supply food and drink during the intermission.
It’s not likely to appeal to everyone. But Quantum veterans will likely enjoy watching a team of talented, well-rehearsed actors perform in an unusual space, and those who know Saramago’s book should find the experience a stimulating extension of that work.