Tribune-Review – Guests at Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Italian villa will find it’s definitely not a relaxing weekend in the country.
The setting for “Tamara,” Quantum Theatre’s latest and biggest-ever production, the villa overflows with plots, seductions, lies, secrets and political intrigue that take place in rooms and hallways on three floors of a lavishly decorated country house.
Quantum’s signature mission is staging adventurous works in unexpected spaces such as cemeteries, empty swimming pools and abandoned movie theaters.
For “Tamara,” artistic director Karla Boos and director John Shepard chose Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.
Scenic designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley has turned the landmark building’s offices, atrium, board room, kitchen and hallways into poet, political provocateur, womanizer and cocaine addict d’Annunzio’s Italian villa during a 48-hour period in 1927.
The play begins as d’Annunzio is waiting for famed Art Deco artist Tamara Lempicka to arrive at the villa, where he has been unofficially imprisoned by Mussolini.
Equal parts soap opera and semi-fictionalized historical drama, it’s “Downton Abbey” on steroids, but with a really good meal added on.
Audience members become guests for an experience that runs two hours and 45 minutes. That includes a mid-production break for dinner, which is served on the terrace.
The experience is immersive — but not interactive.
Audience members become invisible, ghost-like voyeurs who choose and follow a character as they go about their lives in the house. But aside from getting their passports stamped as they enter, attendees are blessedly not singled out or dragooned into the proceedings. You’re there to watch, listen and figure out what’s going on.
As you enter, you’re assigned a character to follow. But you can choose to follow another whenever he or she leaves one room for another.
There are 10 richly interesting characters among the servants and the served, beginning with d’Annunzio. But you may find yourself more intrigued by d’Annunzio’s housekeeper, Aelis; or his former mistress, renowned pianist Luisa Baccara; or the painter Tamara, who d’Annunzio is hoping to seduce; or the Fascist officer Aldo Finzi, d’Annunzio’s unofficial jailer; or one of the villa’s young servants.
Whomever you pick, some effort is involved.
Each one has a secret and a hidden agenda and takes you on an intriguing adventure as they move swiftly upstairs and down.
Quantum has arranged a somewhat less-demanding track for those with mobility issues. But there are an abundance of stairs to negotiate wherever you go.
No matter who you’re tracking, you will gain entree into plots, back stories and liaisons that others do not.
That leads to interesting dinner conversation as you gossip with tablemates about what each of you has seen or learned.
Even after seeing the show twice and following several characters, I’m still not entirely clear on what some of the characters were up to.
But that doesn’t diminish the fun.
The first-rate cast never breaks character as they lead you through the rooms and story lines. Their nuanced, genuine and detailed performances allow you to get caught up in the action and buy into the world of the play.
While it’s impossible to mention everyone, Fermin Suarez gives a commanding performance as d’Annunzio. So do Robin Abramson as his spurned mistress Luisa; Ken Bolden as Luisa’s suitor de Spiga; Tammy Tsai as the housekeeper Aelis; Ethan Hova as d’Annunzio’s man servant Dante; and Robert Turano as d’Annunzio’s unofficial jailer Finzi.
Toward the end of the evening, the experience is not unlike binge-watching your fourth episode of “Scandal” or “Orange Is the New Black,” only with the added challenge of physical exertion.
You’re weary and ready to bail. But you also want to know what happens next…