Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – The journey to bring “Ciara” to Quantum Theatre began in Edinburgh in the summer of 2013. Flash forward to 2016, and Karla Boos’ vision of Mary Rawson in the part of Ciara, an art gallery owner and mob boss’s daughter, has finally arrived.
It took a year to gain the rights to David Harrower’s one-woman play about the confluence of art and the gritty city of Glasgow, and by then, Ms. Rawson, a 2012 Post-Gazette Performer of the Year, was already hooked. It is the first solo performance for the actress and Point Park University educator.
“I just tell Karla, I’m waiting for the other actors to show up. It’s a little lonely until they get here,” Ms. Rawson said, looking around, as if wishing would make it so. “David Harrower is such a fabulous writer. It’s in the text. It’s in the words, but it is really a work of art, which means you have to keep mining it to discover it, to explore, finding the tissue of connections, even in the way the words play out on the page.”
She is not alone, though, in the preparation for the play, which opens today Jan. 27 at Javo Studios in Lawrenceville. Along with pal Boos directing, two longtime friends — artist Robert Qualters and filmmaker/multimedia artist Joe Seamans have created a colorful backdrop.
A looming presence in Ciara’s life and in the DNA of the play is the painting of a naked woman in repose, not quite atop, not quite hovering, not quite entwined, with the city of Glasgow.
“It was Mary’s suggestion that we have Bob — the whole idea of representing the gritty city is so much a part of the play. And then I really came to love the idea of it being these old friends, me and Mary and Bob and Joe, our multiple friendships and relationships, that’s a beautiful aspect of the project,” Ms. Boos said.
“The first reason I thought of Bob was a print he had made of a Matisse nude and the city of Braddock, which I’ve always loved and which hangs in my work room at home,” Ms. Rawson said. “So I thought of him immediately and mentioned it to Karla, and that sparked Bob and the city and language and how much he loved that, and Glasgow and Pittsburgh are such similar cities. They are industrial cities with a gritty past and an artistic element as well, and politicos acting on the city — turf, territory, all those things.”
Mr. Harrower, whose “Blackbird” is on Broadway starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, has painted a portrait of his city that shows the glossy, artsy side and its dark underbelly, all through Ciara’s eyes. As the much-adored daughter of a gangster, she was supposed to be kept away from her father’s, and now her husband’s, dirty dealings, but of course she has more than a good idea of what has been going on throughout her life.
“She’s not just a victim,” Ms. Boos said. “She was done to, but she also does.”
“But she is vulnerable,” Ms. Rawson said, noting that “Ciara” means dark in the Scottish dialect. “And she has such complexity of inheritance and desire and worlds clashing.”
The actress has been working on her line readings for two years, since Ms. Boos first handed her the script, then set out to get the rights. The process was delayed because the plan had been for a tour with Blythe Duff, who originated the title role to much acclaim as the centerpiece of the Edinburgh Festival.
As she walked her dog through the streets of Squirrel Hill, Ms. Rawson would recite snippets of dialogue with CIara’s biting wit and with stares from her dog “whenever there was an outburst,” she said. “People would think there’s this mad Scottish woman who talks to herself.”
Starting tonight, she will finally be in a room with a lot of other people — an audience. Quantum won a National Endowment of the Arts grant of $10,000 to give the production its U.S. premiere.
“It’s an enthralling story,” Ms. Rawson said. “If we serve the story, it will work.”