Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Karla Boos and Barbara Luderowski think so far out of the box, they are more inclined to first reimagine the box’s square shape, then see just how far they can get from it.
Take the world premiere of “All the Names,” Quantum Theatre leader Boos’ adaptation of the 1997 novel by Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago, from the translation by Margaret Jull Costa.
For the unorthodox production of a seemingly impossible story, Quantum has overtaken an upper floor of the landmark original Carnegie Library of Allegheny, hard by the New Hazlett Theater. Along for the ride is North Side neighbor and Mattress Factory founder, president and co-director Ms. Luderowski.
The company is creating multiple environments for audiences to explore as they follow the journey of a clerk at the Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths of some unnamed city. A creature of habit and bound by rules, Senor Jose is moved to break away from his mundane existence and pursue a person he knows only as “unknown woman.”
If you had to come up with a name of someone from the local theater scene who would read such a novel, one that is long on description and one man’s inner dialogue, and deem it just right for a live-theater venture, at the top of the list would have to be Karla Boos.
And if you had to guess which of her “All the Names” collaborators would suggest clothing the actors all in rubber, rising to the top would be Ms. Luderowski,
In the year or more it took Ms. Boos to adapt the seemingly impossible, an early decision was to have a cast of four.
“I had two initial senses that there should be one woman and [the clerk] should be represented by two people,” Ms. Boos said, seated in a relatively small room away from the bustle of construction outside its door. “And it seemed very necessary to have the Registrar, who’s another major character, represented. I never really second-guessed that, and that became a driver.”
“And Karla did not follow my directions about wrapping them all in rubber jackets or suits,” Ms. Luderowski added.
“Well, you said a couple of interesting things along the way. ‘Well, maybe they can have paper bags over their heads.’ That’s a quote from Barbara Luderowski,” Ms. Boos countered with a chuckle.
The team finally settled on a neutral, mostly gray palette of rather traditional clothing.
“From my way of thinking it was a perfect choice, which was Narelle [Sissons]’s choice,” Ms. Luderowski said of the designer. “It may in some ways relate to my original thinking, this ‘there but not there.’ The actors are there, but in a lot of gray so that the voice, the actions, from my point of view, comes out in a very pure form.”
Decisions like this one led to many late nights among the creative team. Ms. Luderowski believes adamantly in argument as a way to get from point A to the finale, with no hard feelings when a point is settled.
“For me, arguing is a way of getting ideas out,” she said. “I may not get ideas out till I irritate you to the point of arguing back. And then I know who you are. It is a way of peeling away a lot of the onion.”
Asked her title with the production, Ms. Luderowski says, “Collaborator,” of which there are many. The unusual credits listed by Quantum say the show is “devised by” Ms. Boos, Ms. Luderowski, Chris Evans, Cindy Limauro, Sarah Pickett, Megan Monaghan Rivas, Joe Seamans and Ms. Sissons. The acting company is made up of Quantum veterans Bridget Connors, James FitzGerald, Cameron Knight and Mark Conway Thompson.
Ms. Boos invited an assemblage who could hold its own in an argument and then get to work.
“Within the world of theater, they are all unusual folks who I thought would like the opportunity to work in a more abstract way than they usually get to in the theater … that they would like to get on this train.”
Getting Ms. Luderowski onboard for a Quantum production would seem a natural because the Mattress Factory was founded to support artists creating site-specific installations, which early on included performance art.
Ms. Luderowski, though, wasn’t an easy sell.
“I have a number of reservations about how my limited exposure to theater has affected me,” she said.
Instead of being discouraged, that was something Ms. Boos wanted to explore. She, herself, has been inspired by her own reservations about traditional theater, which led to her shedding the notion of a set stage and matching the environment to the work.
“I look at what Karla does as a theater version of installation art,” Ms. Luderowski said. “If you read ‘All the Names,’ you discover it’s really a painting in words. It’s such a thoroughly rich thing with many, many threads of thought that begin to tie together, all coming out of one person’s head. There’s very little dancing around, no major love affair, no sex. This is a man who is totally in his head and sharing it with you, and it’s an incredibly difficult thing to transpose in any way shape or form into something that fits anywhere.”
The challenge has been to meld the thought process laid out in the book with the venue’s space, lighting, video and acting so the audience “can begin to tie things together. You don’t get the whole picture, but you’re going to get enough of it that you want to go home and read the book or wish you’d read it before you came,” Ms. Luderowski said.
Most theater creators will tell you it’s not necessary or even desirable to know the source material they are interpreting, but in this case, both women encourage it. Quantum has been reaching out to book clubs, with a discussion planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Classic Lines bookstore in Squirrel Hill.
Ms. Luderowski finished “All the Names” via audiobook after at first finding it hard to get through the novel’s dense descriptions. As she got deeper into it, she became fully engaged and ready to argue.
“One of the actors told me, ‘This one is a challenge,’ ” Ms. Luderowski recalled. “And I said, ‘That’s my job in life.’ ”