- Courtesy of Heather Mull
- Wolf at the door: Tristan Farmer in Quantum's The Howling Miller
Some men aren't made for society. Gunnar Huttunen is just such an outlier. He plays pranks. He howls like a wolf all night long. He throws grenades into ice floes. Huttunen doesn't steal, cheat or lie, but still the villagers hate him. And in a place as remote as Lapland, pissing off the locals means serious trouble. Huttunen's only leverage is his water mill, but even that might not save him from the asylum. By Act II, these Finns are ready to finish him off.
The Howling Miller is based on a novel by Arto Paasilinna, a writer famous only in Scandinavia. Paasilinna should be thankful that his book fell into the hands of Karla Boos and Peter Duschenes, who have shrewdly adapted the story into a new two-and-a-half-hour comic drama. Quantum Theatre opens its 20th season with this energetic social satire -- a play about a troubled young veteran and the armed posse that drives him into the forest. It's remarkably like Rambo: First Blood, if only John Rambo ground barley and fell in love with a plucky young naturalist from the 4-H Club.
Artistic director Boos has staged plays in swimming pools and cemeteries, so by Quantum standards, an outdoor production in Frick Park is blessedly tame. Scenic designer Tony Ferrieri has built his beautiful set around the Frick Environmental Center's old wooden barn, and the sylvan backdrop is perfect for a plot that takes place at the Arctic Circle. Even the chatter of crickets embellishes the feeling of wilderness.
Miller is broken into lots of little scenes, with dozens of characters, but it moves at a steady clip. Herman Pearl's dynamic sound design helps each scene bleed smoothly into the next. Despite its obscure context -- Finland in the 1950s -- Miller is incredibly funny, and director Duschenes doesn't miss a comic opportunity. Does a crucified Jesus come to life and give advice on how to best commit arson? Yes, he does. As Paasilinna might say, Pidan siita todella (it's pretty awesome).
Each actor in the hard-working ensemble shows off extraordinary talents. But the leads especially deserve their roles: As Sanelma Käyrämö, Melina Helfrich is quirky and lovable, the ideal love interest for an endearing madman. As the titular Gunnar Huttunen, Tristan Farmer is a powerhouse -- were it not for his energy and physical dexterity, this show would simply deflate. Farmer climbs, leaps, flips and somersaults his way through two breakneck acts, and it is his verve that makes Miller such a howling success.
The Howling Miller continues through Aug. 22. Frick Environmental Center, 2005 Beechwood Blvd., Squirrel Hill. $16-45. 888-718-4253 or www.quantumtheatre.com