To quote the quotable Oscar Wilde, let me conjure a line from An Ideal Husband. Mrs. Cheveley says of Mrs. Markby: "Talks more and says less than anybody I ever met." And that sums up my feelings about 36 Views, by Naomi Iizuka, receiving its Pittsburgh premiere from Quantum Theatre.
I have to tell you, dear reader, that the first 20 minutes of this play about art-forgers, dealers and hangers-on, were the longest of my life. People just stood there talking to each other and nothing made any sense. It seemed to be this academic doublespeak about art history but, honestly, they could have been mapping the human genome for all the sense it made.
Somewhere around the half-hour mark signs of plot and story begin to assemble on stage. I wish I could tell you that things got better ... but I'd be lying. I hated the first part because I couldn't understand it, and I hated this part because I could.
We'll glide over the fact that some of the plot is boy-meets-girl, and instead focus on the rest: An assistant to a major art-dealer, in a half-kidding sort of way, creates a phony translation of a nonexistent diary from 11th-century Japan which is, through a series of merry mix-ups, taken to be real. (Well ... it is better than boy-meets-girl.) So maybe he'll get caught or maybe the art world will be duped or maybe ...
... Hold the phone! We interrupt the play for a 15-minute reading/performance of the diary. The fake diary. The diary we know to be a lie. It's like somebody made a movie out of The Hitler Diaries. What, please, is the dramatic point of giving theatrical life to something which we know to be completely false?
Forward dramatic movement arrives in the second act, when Iizuka tries some actual playwriting. Tries, but, unfortunately, doesn't succeed. Pedestrian and trite don't even begin to describe the nonsense she coughs up. The love scenes between the boy and girl are so inane you can't help but cringe, and her "insights" are both banal and shallow. There's not even a question of dramatic structure, and important scenes -- when the forger confesses his forgery, for instance -- are nowhere to be seen.
And then in the final two minutes, for no textually supported reason, Iizuka tries to create a whole new reality out of thin air ... perhaps to make up for the failed reality she's created over the preceding 148 minutes.
I will give her credit for a certain amount of guts. She's written a play in which a bunch of overeducated philistines talk themselves into finding depth and meaning in a work of art that isn't real. Believe me, when you've written a play this hollow, that's not a road you want to go down.
I can't imagine what Quantum artistic director Karla Boos ever saw in this script. But as this show's director she's staged a visually stunning production at a gorgeous outdoor space on Washington's Landing. The night I saw the show the air was cool, the trees blowing softly in the wind, and the night fell with magical grace. The trade-off for this al fresco fantasia, however, is that the actors, including leads Matthew Gray and Rebecca Hirota, are forced to shout at each other to be heard. Intimacy is sacrificed for projection and nuance is overrun by the need for volume. This may explain why some of the acting is unsuccessful when measured against usual Quantum standards.
Or maybe they just figured, to quote the quotable Bette Midler, "Why bother?"
36 Views continues through Aug. 30. 200 Waterfront Drive, Washington's Landing. 412-394-3353 or www.quantumtheatre.com