"We don't, as a rule, do realistic American plays," says Karla Boos, artistic director of Pittsburgh's Quantum Theatre. And Quantum's latest, Boos' revisionist take on a classic fable by Hans Christian Andersen, is anything but realistic. The Red Shoes tells the story of a girl so infatuated with her new shoes that she pays no attention in church. She deserts her ill mother in favor of dancing in those shoes, and once she begins dancing, she can't stop. In Andersen's famous dark style, the girl's feet are eventually chopped off; when the shoes still don't stop, her heart bursts and she flies up to heaven.
Boos and her performers delight in approaching this cautionary tale ironically. "This fable is from a nasty point of view," says Boos. "It seems that Hans is cautioning the reader against this great sin."
In Quantum's Red Shoes, to emphasize the absurdity of the fable, Boos wanted the dancing to define the show -- by being even more sinful. To portray the spirit of the red shoes, she recruited her longtime friend Carolina Loyola-Garcia, a video artist and accomplished flamenco dancer.
"In the story, flamenco is representing that part of the human spirit which for us is still true and honest, free and passionate," says Loyola-Garcia. Whenever the girl (played by Erika Cuenca) begins dancing, Loyola-Garcia appears onstage to perform the flamenco. Dancing in a bright red dress, she embodies the sin Andersen so reviles: vanity.
As with other Quantum productions, you won't see The Red Shoes in a conventional theater. The latest in Quantum's series of appropriated venues is Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, on the North Side. "We usually choose the place because it makes some kind of comment on the play," Boos says. Unitarian progressivism seemed an ideal counterpoint to the unforgiving nature of Andersen's story.
Local musicians John Marcinizyn, on guitar, and Luke Savage, on percussion, accompany the dancing, and actors Andy Place, Jennifer Tober and Alexi Morrisey play a host of disapproving characters. Quantum's The Red Shoes is more comedy than drama, and the actors revel in the over-the-top morals and macabre ending. The message, says Boos, is that we shouldn't stifle our creativity.
"To me, the 'sin' in this story is what makes an artist feel like she has to express something," she says, "This character, in my mind, is a metaphor for individualism, feminism and personal expression."
Quantum Theatre presents The Red Shoes. Thu., Feb. 8-March 4. Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, 416 W. North Ave., North Side. $27 ($24 Wednesdays and Sundays/$15 students). 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org