Three things you should know about Dream of Autumn:
One, there are outhouses. Not in the play. Outside. When you read that Quantum Theatre is staging the play in “the former Park Schenley Restaurant” at the Royal York in Oakland, it may conjure up visions of a faded-glory interior with chandeliers, oak paneling and other trappings of elegance. Uh-uh. The owners have gutted the cavernous space, down to the structural bare bones. With Quantum’s eerie lighting, this makes it perfect for a spooky play set in a graveyard. It also means no plumbing, so if you’d rather not use the porta-toilets, take preemptive action beforehand.
The second thing you may know already. Martin Giles is one of the funniest persons you will ever see on stage. That too is perfect, because Giles is the male lead (a nameless character listed simply as “Man”). And this graveyard play, by the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse—author of works such as Deathvariations, The Dead Dogs, and Melancholy—is far from being a grim meditation by a brooding recluse who goes philosophically bananas during those long months when the sun don’t shine in Norway. Uh-uh. Dream of Autumn is a howl in the graveyard.
A sexy howl, which transpires when Man is taking a stroll among the tombs, and then lo-ho-ho and behold—out of the somewhere that is nowhere—enters Woman (Karla Boos), dressed to kill. Not in heels but barefoot, and not in Prada but in a filmy, clingy white gown that doesn’t just work; it plays. She is his long-forgotten (wait, make that long-remembered) lover, and although of course he shouldn’t have been, this is a development that calls for Man to be surprised. Six or eight different shades of surprised. Martin Giles has got them all, with vigor, with over-the-top and out-the-window vigor, because he isn’t just Man; he is The Man.
And if you think it’s easy being The Man when you are frumped up in a frumpy old jacket and shapeless pants, while your counterpart is flowing around you like a dream of white-gowned truth and beauty from a Grecian funerary urn, think again.
Which of course Man must do, for of course, after a lot of hoo-hah and hm-hah, it all comes down to the eternal question. Would Man like to play the game of Sex and Death? A crucial exchange goes as follows.
Man: You mean you want us to be together?
Woman: Don’t you?
Man: I do.
Just from reading the words, one can tell that the moment is pivotal. What doesn’t come across is how hilarious the moment is. You see, Man is conflicted. He wants to, but he doesn’t want to, but he does, but he’s married, but this is the chance of a lifetime (or maybe a deathtime), and it might end badly, but it sure would be goodly, and so on. At such a juncture, one expects the actor to register some uncertainty. What Martin Giles does, is to register approximately 14 different shades of yes-no-maybe uncertainty while speaking the extremely short line “I do.”
Right on, brother! Spoken like a real Man!
Nor is Giles the only good actor in the play. Karla Boos also has a role that requires her to be many things, from the perilous seductress to Marty’s straight girl—while symbolizing everything under the midnight sun—and her achievement is that she does it without once sinking into stereotype. The character she gives us is a real person. A real Woman, an individual, like you or the person next to you. That is what makes it so touching, when events turn touchy.
And they do turn touchy, which brings us to the third thing you should know about Dream of Autumn. Among the spirits hovering through the play is the spirit of Samuel Beckett. Playwright Jon Fosse’s works have often been compared to Beckett’s, and in this play there are unmistakable traces of Waiting for Godot.
Each play has two central characters who spar and circle, the main difference being that in Godot it’s two guys trapped in an existential bromance, whereas in Dream of Autumn we get a hetero romance. Each play, likewise, has two more main characters who burst onto the scene, bringing disruption most profound. In Godot it’s Pozzo and his unlucky servant Lucky, whereas in Dream of Autumn it’s—uh oh—Man’s Mother (Laurie Klatscher) and Father (Gregory Lehane).
Now, what does Mother think of this Woman? Ahh, don’t ask. Just watch. Here again are actors who know how to kill. Plus, in Dream of Autumn you get a special bonus, a third interloper. And who else would it be but Man’s very significant OTHER significant other? Jennifer Tober plays the wounded wife, with great feeling, not to mention what she does with an umbrella.
The play is strange in its tone and rhythms, in the same vein that Godot is strange. But it is not merely Godot Junior, and neither, despite the laughs, is it a farce like Woody Allen’s Love and Death. Death isn’t funny. People die in this play. As, sooner or later, we all shall do. What’s funny—sometimes painfully funny, both in the play and for us—is how we live.
Quantum’s version of the play is a new translation, masterfully put into English by Sarah Cameron Sunde of New York, who directed as well. And it seems to me that the translator herself may have a bit of the ol’ sense of humor. Previously, the play’s title had been given in English as Autumn Dream. Why, I wondered, did she make it Dream of Autumn?
Then I looked at the initials.
Dream of Autumn plays Wed-Sun at 8 PM through April 28, in the former Park Schenley Restaurant at The Royal York, 3955 Bigelow Blvd in Oakland. Tickets: http://www.quantumtheatre.com/season/Dream_of_Autumn/ or 1-888-71-TICKETS.
Mike Vargo, an experienced, longtime writer based in Pittsburgh, has himself performed on stage but “not very well,” he says. So he sticks to writing about it.
Photos courtesy of Heather Mull and Quantum Theatre.