In France, Le Grand Meaulnes is considered a classic novel. No student would graduate from a French école without reading it, just as every American seems to read The Catcher in the Rye. Written by Alain Fournier on the cusp of World War I, Meaulnes has dominated nearly a century of literature classes, even though the book is almost unknown outside of France.
And what story could be more French? There are mimes, gypsies and midnight rides through the forest. Two amours make public love against a stone wall. A country picnic devolves into rapacious wining. The coincidental encounters are outlandish and lovely. And at the ebullient, ever-pounding heart of this tale is Augustin Meaulnes -- rogue, lover, bon vivant.
Using Nigel Gearing's new adaptation, Quantum Theatre has done more than stage an Edwardian romance; it has captured the French spirit, enchanting the audience with the strange magic of Gallic culture and imagination. Meaulnes is performed in the open air, just outside "the Stables," a venerable stone building set among the hills of Hartwood Acres. The drive is long and winding, but Meaulnes is a rich reward: The daylight fades over the woods and fields, draught horses trot in the distance, and Quantum's impeccable cast brings Meaulnes to giddy life. If theatre is supposed to help us imagine other worlds, Quantum has outdone itself: For fleeting moments, we almost believe we're there.
The plot of Meaulnes is too sprawling to summarize, and it's almost beside the point. The titular Meaulnes is a young, reckless man; he's headstrong and electrical, and he gallops from adventure to adventure, finding love, losing love, toying with love, abandoning love, hiding from love, finding love again, then sacrificing one love for another. Like most French drama, the end is never the end. (There's always another plot twist, another debt of honor to redeem.) And whether the finale is heartbreaking depends on your perspective. (Tragic, because of all the death -- or uplifting, because of lives well lived? You decide!)
What is indisputable is the limitless energy of Quantum's cast, particularly Sam Trussell, Jarid Faubel and the young Dan Amboyer as Meaulnes. Di Trevis directs with confidence, using every inch of the Stables' bucolic landscape; the wood fence, stone walls, oaken doors, dusty road, curving ramp, and mythic courtyard are all put to good use. Granted one of the most charming structures in suburban Pittsburgh, Trevis has wasted nothing.
All this outdoor romance has its price: Pillows, ponchos and insect repellent are all recommended, plus many, many handkerchiefs. Tragic or uplifting, this show's a tear-jerker.
Le Grand Meaulnes continues through Aug. 26. The Stables, Hartwood Acres Park. 412-394-3353 or www.quantumtheatre.com