Quantum Theatre's Madagascar | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Quantum Theatre's Madagascar

It's a deliciously malicious romp through layers of family tragedy and mystery.

Melinda Helfrich (left) and Helena Ruoti in Quantum's Madagascar.
Melinda Helfrich (left) and Helena Ruoti in Quantum's Madagascar.

Sex. Death. Classical mythology. What's not to love about Quantum Theatre's production of J.T. Rogers' Madagascar? It's a deliciously malicious romp through the layers of tragedy and mystery in a family both Sophocles and Tennessee Williams would recognize. (No spoilers coming.)

Vast swaths of white fabric envelop the pathway to the stage in what remains of the one-time Union National Bank (now being redeveloped into the Carlyle Condominiums). The sense of faded grandeur, the obsolete opulence, is intensified by the set: a hotel room in Rome overlooking the Spanish Steps. A garishly carved wooden bed. More white drapings. The three remaining marble columns of the 1906-built bank.

While the space is roomy, Madagascar is intimate. Sheila McKenna directs a perfect cast whose players occupy the same hotel room but at different times, successfully weaving threads of character and plot into a cohesive, compelling tale. It's all the more remarkable in that these characters occupy the far end of the sympathetic-repulsive spectrum. The result is rather like being fascinated by a beautiful, poisonous snake.

That's an apt description of the matriarch. Lilian wavers between comparing herself to Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, and her mother, Demeter, goddess of the Harvest. Helena Ruoti blends well-bred charm with un-self-conscious evil, ably portraying the dark appetites behind Lilian's cultured mask. She occupies the still-posh hotel room five years ago — i.e., at the end of the 20th century according to the 2004 play.

Her daughter June has spent her life longing for, well, a life. Melinda Helfrich takes us through a charged childhood, tangled with memories of her mother, into a stunted, almost Glass Menagerie-level, adulthood. The tableaux of mother and daughter are stunning in their similarities and differences. And then there are the father-husband and, especially, the brother-son — offstage but quite central to the drama.

Larry John Meyers dynamically portrays the outsider, the catalyst who both causes and unveils many of the family's cataclysms. Yes, he is part of one romantic triangle, but there are plenty of polygons and other geometries in Madagascar's various relationships.

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