10/3: Jig Saw: The Look, Part 1

When I started to think about directing onstage, I wanted to do a period show, preferably one set in New York.

All along, two sources of inspiration kept popping into my mind. #1:

Kay Thompson’s Eloise at the Plaza, indelibly illustrated by Hilary Knight, screams louche New York hotel living. Years ago, I saw a young girl’s bedroom inspired by the series; the designer had simply taken permanent markers and drawn stripes and squiggles on the walls. I’m a big fan of set design that evokes rather than reproduces; why not create a 30s hotel room by drawing a mirror directly on the wall rather than scrounging around for a real one?

I also loved how Eloise used an extremely limited palette: black, white, grey, red, and pink.

(I’ll go for a redder red over the fuchsia; I love the clash.)

In reading Powell’s diaries, I came across this observation when she attended a 1931 performance of Camille with Eva LeGallienne:

“The thing is romantic and needs to be overplayed. Modern sophisticated acting and naturalistic reading of lines only emphasizes the highly artificial plot. It is theatrical and should be played theatrically.”

It’s a sentiment with which I mostly agree. Theater is inherently fake, and so embrace that. Don’t play the theatricality down, play it up. Hence, my utterly unrealistic color scheme: principally black, white, and grey, with pink for the men and red for the women, who are much more aggressive. Anyway, more on costumes soon.

The other image that lingers in my brain is this one:

The script specifies a view of Central Park. Instead of painting the flat to look like Central Park (which will end up being some green thing that doesn’t look like much of anything), we’ll do a cartoon version inspired by Saul Steinberg’s iconic New Yorker cover drawing. As our Del said, “The audience will walk in and immediately realize not to take it too seriously.” Exactly.

Finally, as I looked yesterday at the very rough sketch I’d made based on the stage set directions in the script, I was struck by one thing: “The room has a triangular shape.” The play is crammed with triangles: Claire/Julie/Nathan, Del/Claire/Nathan, Letty/Frank/Ethel just for the romantic ones. Then there are power struggles, and more stuff I may talk about later. Powell’s humor itself is angular and pointed; there are not a whole lotta soft comfy curves. So I told my set designer, Mark Batell (he also plays Frank; this is community theater and everybody ends up doing double if not triple duty). He got it, and started refining my scribbles and asking all sorts of awesomely practical questions: does this door open in or out? Do people have to exit all the way off, or can they hide back there? What about sight lines and batttens, and will it matter if the plywood warps?

The trick, of course, is to hit the right balance. I’m not a fan of getting hit over the head by anything, and the play’s whole delight is the subtlety of it. So we’ll give it a shot.

Meanwhile, I believe I am on the verge of finding the missing piece to my cast. Fingers crossed for a complete group at tonight’s read-through.

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