The comedic stakes of William Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT have been raised to a whole new level in Quantum Theatre's summer production, playing now through August 21 under the Millvale Avenue Bridge in Bloomfield. Founded in 1990 by Karla Boos (who is also the show's director), Quantum Theatre is known for staging site-specific productions in 'found' settings, having performed past years' shows at places like the Strip District's Gage Building and even The Pittsburgh Zoo. In the case of TWELFTH NIGHT, Quantum's is a somewhat contemporary re-imagination of Shakespeare's original text staged at a dead-end, vacant hospital facility.
Though the costumes, by Robert C.T. Steele and Tyler Holland, manage to retain a touch of antiquity, characters will be seen using credit cards for payment and rushing in and out of a modern, man-made building rife with sharp edging, as well as an intercom system. Nevertheless, the space itself seems just the perfect sort of Ilyria in which to place these characters, and it is certainly utilized to its fullest: not only can actors be spotted popping in and out of windows at varied heights, but some also make use of a grassy, elevated patch of land far above the main playing area of pavement. As Ms. Boos puts it: "I hope the real environment emphasizes the fact that through the characters are not real, the actors are real people, with a complicatedly truthful application of their real feelings, their real intellect, their real physical prowess."
That realness is as apparent as ever, especially through Robin Abramson's captivating Viola and Robin Walsh's decadently arrogant Olivia. John Gresh and Sheila McKenna provide numerous bouts of comic relief as Sir Toby Belch and Maria, as do the ridiculous antics of Gregory Lehane's Malvolio; also particularly impressive are recent Point Park University graduates Justin DeWolf and Andrew Swackhamer as Feste and the multi-purpose musician, priest, and officer.
As is the intrinsic nature of an outdoor performance, the cast and crew must work in conjunction with the surrounding elements in a way not necessary in a typical indoor setting. Lighting designer C. Todd Brown does a marvelous job transitioning from the dwindling natural light present at the beginning of the evening to the more necessary artificial lighting that closes out the show. Moreover - as if strictly natural factors were not enough against which to contend - with a set of train tracks nearby, hope for a passing train at least once during the evening; should the need arise, you'll see a whole different side of the full company during a specially pre-rehearsed 'train interlude.'
The production's uniqueness continues to shine through its incorporation of music: the poignancy of Shakespeare's words is further fostered through ditties such as his very original "O Mistress Mine" and Kurt Weill's "Lonesome Dove," among others.
With textual cuts, Quantum's TWELFTH NIGHT clocks in at around two hours and fifteen minutes. And the show may very well press on should the pesky issue of rain arise: at the performance I attended, the audience was intermittently dotted with a handful of stealthily opened umbrellas despite an on-again, off-again drizzling sky.
No matter the weather, though, as director Karla Boos states in the show's program: "You didn't choose to go to the movies tonight." And you likely won't regret it.
TWELFTH NIGHT performs at The West Penn Hospital Foundation Research Facility, located at 720 Gross Street, now through August 21. Tickets range from $35 - $45 and are available online or by calling ShowClix at 1.888.71.TICKETS (1.888.718.4253). There are a limited number of $18 student tickets available for select performances (with valid ID); members of TIX for Teachers, the Mattress Factory, and WYEP are eligible to receive $3 off with a valid ID (be sure to mention when ordering).