For more than a decade, Ruoti has been active in the Pittsburgh theater scene, rising to become one of the most sought-after talents in the city. She’s worked with the Pittsburgh Public, the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical, City Theatre, and the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, but she hasn’t taken the stage in a Quantum Theatre production…until now.
“Every place has its signature,” says Ruoti. “What I love about Quantum is that it’s very adventurous, welcoming all kinds of plays and playwrights…As an audience member, [Quantum’s productions] have always been so intriguing. I’m delighted to be part of their return to downtown.”
Ruoti takes on the role of Lilian in J.T. Rogers’ Madagascar, which is currently running at the historic Carlyle building on the corner of Wood and Fourth, downtown. “I understand Lilian as a mom who’s trying to figure out her relationship to her children now that they are adults,” Ruoti says. “It’s the parent-child relationship that’s so universal. It hits you in the heart and the gut and the head.”
The structure of the play presented its own challenges to the veteran actress. Madagascar threads three monologues taking place in the same room at different points in time. “It’s pretty much a ghost story,” she says. “The play deals with what Tom Stoppard calls ‘absence of presence.’” One of the pivotal characters in the story, Ruoti explains, is not present but still very vivid, as central to the action as any of the characters who speak onstage.
Ruoti was approached by Quantum Theatre founder Karla Boos when the actress was still working on the Public’s production of Other Desert Cities. The parallels Ruoti felt between the characters of Polly and Lilian were intuitive, too strong to ignore. Both women are mothers trying to connect to their grown children, and both have had someone close to them disappear.
In Lilian’s timeline in Madagascar, the mother is waiting for the arrival of her son. That expectation hangs over each of her lines. “She talks through things,” Ruoti says of her character’s monologues. “She thinks that if she keeps talking, she’ll hit on a truth. She wants to find a way to mend fences, if there are fences to be mended—but that’s the problem. She doesn’t know what she did wrong.”
While Madagascar marks Ruoti’s first production with Quantum Theatre, it’s surely not her last. Experience Helena Ruoti’s Lilian alongside co-stars Larry John Meyers and Melinda Helfrich in Madagascar, playing now through February 22nd at The Carlyle. Get tickets now online or call 412-362-1713.
-By Brandon Getz