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Quantum Theatre's All the Names

An inventive, site-specific adaptation views nostalgia and sorrow through an absurdist lens

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All the Names is an adaptation of the eponymous José Saramago novel. The 1997 book won the Portuguese author the Nobel Prize for literature, and Quantum Theatre honors the late, revered storyteller with the singular inventiveness it has come to be recognized for.

This All the Names — a "devised" piece and a world premiere — takes place in several rooms of the shuttered, cavernous Original Free Library of Allegheny, each representing a different dimension of the story. As the audience is gradually exposed to the narrative, it is guided through the various physical spaces, as set within the North Side landmark.

The story revolves around José, a clerk at the Central Registry, a government bureaucracy which compiles information on the residents of an unnamed country. As a hobby, José copies information about famous individuals for his personal collection.  But when he happens upon the card of an unknown woman, he becomes obsessed with tracking her down (for reasons unclear even to himself).

The way this production confronts the intertextuality of adaptation makes it unique.  Part of Quantum's interpretation is to have two actors embody José. One (James Fitzgerald) is the José whom the other characters see and interact with; the other (Mark Conway Thompson) is a physical manifestation of José's internal monologue — something normally reserved for the page and typically ignored onstage.

Cameron Knight, James Fitzgerald and Mark Conway Thompson in All the Names
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • From left: Cameron Knight (background), James Fitzgerald and Mark Conway Thompson in Quantum's All the Names

Barbara Luderowski's elaborate scenic design evokes the strange, vast space of a reader's imagination while simultaneously creating an oppressive landscape. In one room, the authoritative Registrar (Cameron Knight) sits at an absurdly long desk that underlines the separation between him and his clerks. In another, sonorous fans scatter pieces of paper that Jose desperately attempts to grasp (an obvious but effective visualization of the frantic inner workings of his mind).

The production pays further homage to Saramago with a fado soundtrack. Fado is a Portuguese musical style, and it represents a sort of untranslatable Portuguese sentiment — something like the deep, nostalgic sorrow one has for those who have been lost tragically. Quantum's All the Names has nostalgia and sorrow, but viewed through an absurdist, bureaucratic lens — and it's an example of experimentation done right.

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