Entertainment Central Pittsburgh – In the mystery tale “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a learned Chinese nobleman announces he is retiring from public life to go off and “construct a labyrinth.” Years pass, with reports that he is hard at work, but after his death not a trace of the fabled structure can be found anywhere. All he has left behind is the manuscript of a long and strangely convoluted story, which defies understanding until someone realizes: The story is the labyrinth.
That tale was written by a master mystifier, the late Jorge Luis Borges. Too bad he can’t come to Pittsburgh for the world-premiere run (through October 28) of Quantum Theatre’s play Chatterton. Working from a different sort of subject matter, Quantum has constructed a labyrinth with a few layers of intrigue added.
Chatterton consists of at least five stories woven together—there might be more, depending on how you count. The stories keep you surprised and guessing as you walk through them—and you literally walk, because the play unfolds inside a physical labyrinth, corkscrewing through scenes that are performed in various chambers, nooks, and crannies of the historic Trinity Cathedral Pittsburgh.
Plus, the guided tour includes time travel at no extra charge. For one scene, you might be up in the choir loft of the majestic cathedral, face to face with a wild-haired man dressed in a frock coat and knee stockings. This is poet Thomas Chatterton (played by Jonathan Visser), gleefully breaking the fourth wall as he tells you how he perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes of the 1700s.
Next—or perhaps before, it doesn’t matter—you are in a room made up as the back room of a 21st-century art gallery, where art-world types are wrangling over a classic dilemma. Certain abstract paintings attributed to a famous artist turn out to have been forged. Does it make ethical sense to expose the forgeries or financial sense not to?
You also get visits to London in the mid-1800s, periodic installments of a modern-day detective story, and more. They’re punctuated by flashes of theatrical brilliance that light up the trip. The cavernous sanctuary of Trinity Cathedral is built to resonate with music, and it resonates wonderfully at the times when Chatterton sings. Since the play is set in England, there’s plenty of witty Brit repartee. (“Dan, have you ever made love?” “No, I buy it ready-made.”)
And some moments of wordless, physical acting have tremendous impact. In the mid-1800s story, Gayle Pazerski plays the long-suffering wife of an insufferably egotistical man. At last she makes a bold move to break loose. Clad head-to-toe in Victorian fashion, she walks unannounced into the home of another man she rather likes. She faces him fiercely from beneath her bonnet. And when she suddenly removes the bonnet, standing bare-haired and proud, it’s more powerful than any shedding-the-clothes nude scene in a movie…