If nothing else, the high ceiling of Lawrenceville's old Iron City Brewery bottling plant accomodates a key part of the set in Quantum Theatre's production of When the Rain Stops Falling. The piece is a wood-framed, burlap-skinned replica of Australia's famed Ayers Rock, a massive red-orange sandstone formation.
Quantum's scale model is two stories high. But just as its inspiration springs 1,100 feet from the otherwise flat central Australian bush, the piece looms over the play's humble central set, which represents a linoleum-floored kitchen.
The geological anomaly is featured in key scenes, but also is a kind of eternal presence. For director Martin Giles, that combination suggests the play's form and themes alike.
The production began with Quantum artistic director Karla Boos sending Giles the script, by lauded Australian playwright Andrew Bovell. (Bovell also wrote Speaking in Tongues, an earlier Quantum production).
The 2008 play depicts seven people -- four generations of two families -- confronting their pasts and each other over some eight decades. Action set in Australia, in 2039, depicts a world where climatic shifts have caused the mass extinction of most sea life. The characters are in deep pain, struggling to connect.
Upon reading the script, "I was horrified and uplifted, which I thought was a good combination," quips Giles, a busy local actor, director and playwright.
The show's large cast includes Robin Abramson, Bridget Connors, Daina Michelle Griffith, Daniel Krell, Nick Lehane, Zachary Nading, Mary Rawson, John Shepard and Philip Winters.
The script takes a somewhat magical-realist tack, with characters from four different time periods sometimes on stage all at once; characters even share space with younger versions of themselves. (The kitchen centers on what Giles calls a "supernaturally large table," conceptualized by he and set-designer Tony Ferrieri.) The time periods are also unified by motifs like lost hats and a taste for fish soup. The play begins with a fish falling from the sky on a man who's wondering what to serve his long-lost son for lunch.
Giles says Bovell's approach implicitly reflects the Australian Aboriginal concept called "dreamtime," in which, he says, "Everything exists all the time -- as well as existing at different times." Quantum's Ayers Rock -- Uluru, in the indigenous tongue -- helps make the point visually.
The production marks the play's Pittsburgh premiere. The show is also Quantum's first installment of its Neighborhood Initiative. The company, which has spent 20 years adopting and adapting a new space for each show, is formalizing its relationship with affected communities by staging three consecutive productions in the vicinity of the Penn Avenue corridor.
This time, the building (which is heated) is the last one along Sassafras Street to belong to the sprawling but shuttered brewery complex; trailers bearing the "IC Light" logo are still parked out back.
The feeling of desuetude complements the play's tortured earth, which reflects its tortured characters.
Bovell, says Giles, is "saying we make the world the way it is by the way we act between each other."
Quantum Theatre presents When the Rain Stops Falling Thu., Oct. 28-Nov. 21. Iron City Brewery, 3340 Liberty Ave., Lawrenceville. $16-45. 888-718-4253 or www.quantumtheatre.com