‘Scenes From An Execution’ Onstage at Quantum Theatre (Tues., 4/9/24)

SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION by Howard Barker. Quantum Theatre. Through April 27.

Actor Hansel Tan poses while Lisa Velten Smith paints. (Photography: Jason Snyder)

Actor Hansel Tan poses while Lisa Velten Smith paints. (Photography: Jason Snyder)

To say that Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theatre produces unusual plays is to state the obvious, but the one that closes the company’s 2023-24 season might be more unusual than usual. Scenes from an Execution, by the irascible English playwright Howard Barker, is a satirical seriocomic imaginary history play set in Venice in the 1570s. The play presents a bizarre take-off on true events. And the title refers not to the execution of a criminal, but to the artistic execution of a painting. This much is true: In 1571, the navies of the Holy League—a coalition of Catholic European states—defeated the armada of the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto, off the coast of Greece. Afterward, numerous colossal paintings were done throughout Europe to celebrate the triumph. Now cut to the play. The Republic of Venice commissions a female painter (of whom some were active in the late Renaissance) for the job. But she doesn’t paint a glorious victory scene. Instead she renders a gory scene depicting the agonies of a melee in which thousands died. The Doge of Venice is outraged. And from there, a story that’s already weird takes unexpected turns. 

Quantum has Lisa Velten Smith playing the painter Galactia, Robert Ramirez as Doge Urgentino, and Andrew William Smith directing a cast of 10. Scenes from an Execution is performed in the Abiding Missions community center in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood. 7:30 p.m. 731 Excelsior St., Allentown. (M.V.) 

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Mike Vargo

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