The late East German playwright Heiner Müller -- best known in the West for his experimental, Shakespeare-inspired Hamletmachine -- is widely lauded as the postmodern Brecht. Still, Müller's surrealist, collage-like approach "scares a lot of people away," says Carnegie Mellon theater professor Jed Allen Harris.
But veteran director Harris likes a challenge. So does Quantum Theatre, which is staging what Harris says is Pittsburgh's first-ever professional production of a Müller play.
The Task (1979) follows three Frenchmen in their failed, early-1800s attempt to foment black revolution in British-colonized Jamaica. The fictional story echoes (and references) Haiti's real-world 1804 rebellion against France. Larry John Meyers, Larry Powell and Tony Bingham head a cast of seven.
Quantum is staging the work in the Gage Building, a cavernous former factory in the Strip District. Each of the seven scenes takes place in a separate "installation"; one scene (set in a different time period) is staged with the cast in an elevator -- and in their underwear. Audiences will walk short distances between sets.
The play's structure is more dreamlike -- actually, nightmarish -- than linear. But Müller, both a lifelong socialist and a critic of socialism, engages such timeless themes as the struggle with one's political ideals.
Harris says that, more than is usual, he and the cast discovered the play by working on it. "If you begin to really dig into the text, you realize how absolutely connected it is, and how very logical it is."
Quantum Theatre presents The Task Thu., April 22-May 9. The Gage Building, 30th Street and Liberty Avenue, Strip District. $16-40. 412-394-3353 or www.quantumtheatre.com