Tribune-Review – Two veteran Pittsburgh artists are venturing into unfamiliar territory with Quantum Theatre’s latest production.
Actress Mary Rawson will perform Scottish play‑wright David Harrower’s one-woman drama “Ciara” on a set designed and painted by painter, muralist, installation artist and printmaker Robert Qualters.
Set in Glasgow, Scotland, a gritty, post-industrial city not unlike Pittsburgh, the drama introduces us to Ciara, the daughter of a mobster and the wife of the successor to her father’s criminal empire.
Hoping to leave her past behind, she tries to reinvent herself as the owner of a gallery that promotes the work of local artists.
Karla Boos, who is directing “Ciara,” wanted to cast Rawson as soon as she saw the play’s debut production in 2013 at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Rawson has a long resume of work with local professional companies such as Pittsburgh Public Theater and City Theatre, as well as seven previous shows with Quantum.
But the opportunity to play Ciara was a new challenge: “To do a one-person show … the prospect of not working with other actors was terrifying,” Rawson says.
“It’s a bear of a play,” Rawson says. “She is such a creature of conflict. She’s defined by others — all men — yet somehow this picture of a giant woman full of potential speaks to her and, out of what erupts, she is forced to speak for herself.”
For Boos: “It’s both a play that will leave people with a lot of questions and yet a completely straightforward story of a woman telling an absolutely interesting story people will understand.”
‘Big, scary project’
With all of his artistic experience, Qualters has only created one other set for a play, 1993’s “Below the Belt” at City Theatre.
Qualters has had more than 30 solo-artist shows across the country and in Pittsburgh. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California and the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, as well as those of corporations and private collections. In 2014, he was named artist of the year by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
“I was surprised and just a little scared when Karla (Boos) said ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Qualters admits.
Part of what made Rawson and Qualters take this leap of faith was that they would be working with people they knew and respected.
“I fell in love with the idea we would be a team working on this big, scary project,” Rawson says.
Qualters committed when he learned that Rawson, whom he has known for years, had been cast.
He also was happy to be collaborating with filmmaker Joe Seamans, who would create projections to accompany and amplify Qualters’ set design, as he has for other Quantum productions such as “The Winter’s Tale,” “All the Names” and “Ainadamar.”
Parts of Qualter’s three-part, 13-foot-tall backdrop are pieces he had created over the years, while other images were created from scenes and people mentioned in the script.
“Everything there does relate to something in the play,” he says.
Qualters’ biggest concern was the nude woman sleeping above the city at the top of the backdrop.
“I was afraid of painting it,” he says. His paintings often include people, and he has, on occasion, painted nudes, “but none of them were 7 feet wide.”
It was only when Seamans brought his projector to Qualters’ Homestead studio that he saw how to make it work.
“We have been collaborators (on other projects), and he is a wonderful friend,” Qualter says. “I trust Joe implicitly. Anything he does is great with me.”
For “Ciara,” the Quantum company is returning to Javo Studios in Lawrence‑ville where it staged “Chickens in the Yard” on the building’s lower level in November. But “Ciara” will be performed on the floor above in the former music hall that has its entrance on Holmes Street and offers heating and working bathrooms.
Audience members should look for signs with a giant Q that will direct them to parking on Stanton Avenue…