Coming up next at McCarter is a production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Crimes of the Heart. In an interview with Artistic Programs Associate Erica Nagel, Set Designer Andromache Chalfant offers insight into creating the physical world of this American Classic.
Andromache Chalfant has been designing whole houses lately, even though the play takes place in just one room. “It might seem odd to do so much thinking about rooms of a house that you won’t see on stage,” she says, “but you can look at hundreds of layouts for old homes before you find one that really lets you get inside the logic of the house.”
“Setting the whole play in a kitchen is great because it’s a central recognizable element,” Chalfant says. “But it creates a challenge to fill the stage believably. One way to address that is to think about the rest of the house. How do you make the house live in the transitions — the thresholds between the kitchen and the rest of the house or the rest of the town? What do we see when we look through those doors?”
“I don’t know if this is part of the quintessential Southernness of the play, but there is an utter lack of privacy in this kitchen. There are all these entrances that disrupt private conversations or actions. In this house, people can enter your space without warning. So that’s interesting to consider thematically, of course, but it also necessitates practical consideration of things like, where do we put the doors? How many ways in and out are there? How do windows figure into the public and private spaces in the MaGrath sisters’ world?”
Although the term “Kitchen sink drama” has taken on a slightly old-fashioned, or even disparaging valence, Chalfant is quick to point out that the term was actually coined to describe a revolutionary form of theater, which depicted working class people, and stood in stark contrast to the popular plays of the day set in parlors and drawing rooms.”A kitchen is like the backstage of the house,” Chalfant says. “It’s the least formal room. It’s where things are prepared.”
When asked about how it feels to take on a modern American classic as a set designer, Chalfant thinks for a moment. “What is the definition of a classic? Something that lasts, I guess. Something that holds up. A classic takes on new layers of meaning over time.”
When audiences experience McCarter’s production of Crimes of the Heart, the creative team wants the audience to feel not only the presence of the rest of the MaGrath house, but also the history within its walls. “The MaGrath kitchen has layers of history from the 1940s through the 1970s,” says Chalfant. “So I’ve been thinking about what the bottom layer of history is in the MaGrath kitchen. Under any updates, like new appliances or remodeled floors, what is the underlying structure? What has this family been building on for the last 30 years?”
By Erica Nagel
Crimes of the Heart runs from March 8-27 in the Matthews Theatre.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mercedes Ruehl for a story about The How and the Why for Timeoff . We chatted during rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the holidays, and the Oscar- and Tony-winning actor was a terrific interview. She was so generous with her answers that I had to leave out some interesting things she said about acting and The How and the Why, so I thought I’d share them here…
One of the play’s themes is the difficulty women have establishing careers in male-driven fields. Zelda Khan, Ruehl’s character, is a brilliant scientist who had to battle to make her mark in her field. I asked her if there were comparisons to make between her acting career and Zelda’s career in science. Her answer began with the words “yes and no.”
“You are entering into a male-dominated world,” she said. “Any place where there’s a lot of money to be made is a male-dominated world.” But she added that it would be impossible to create drama without women, so there’s always been opportunity in acting that might not have existed for a young, female scientist.
She also noted that in some ways, female actors may have an advantage over their male counterparts. She had read that great actors like Marlon Brando and Laurence Olivier dealt with the perception that performing wasn’t a proper occupation for men.
“It’s continuing the child games of make-believe,” she said. “I think we women get away with that aspect or way of looking at it more indulgently than men do.”
On a lighter note, we talked about performing in a two-hander. I asked about being on stage for an entire play, always talking and always listening. She, however, brought up something I hadn’t thought of.
“There’s no break in rehearsal, you don’t get to sit outside and work your Blackberry while someone else takes over for 15 minutes,” she said. “It’s also a hell of a lot of memorizing.”
Mercedes Ruehl is the recipient of the Sallie B. Goodman Prize at McCarter Theatre.
Written by Anthony Stoeckert
Anthony Stoeckert is the assistant editor of Timeoff, the arts and entertainment section of The Princeton Packet and other Packet-owned newspapers.
This is the fourth, and final, in our Take Flight In Rehearsal video series.
In this video, shot during rehearsals for Take Flight, Jenn Colella (Amelia Earhart), Michael Cumpsty (George Putnam), Claybourne Elder (Charles Lindbergh), Stanton Nash (Wilbur Wright), Benjamin Schrader (Orville Wright) and director Sam Buntrock discuss the process of creating a new musical.
Posted by Lauren Medici, Marketing Intern at McCarter Theatre.
This is the third in our Take Flight In Rehearsal video series.
In this video, shot during rehearsals for Take Flight, Jenn Colella (Amelia Earhart), Michael Cumpsty (George Putnam), and director Sam Buntrock discuss Amelia Earhart’s role in history and the production.
Posted by Lauren Medici, Marketing Intern at McCarter Theatre.
Last week, 150 community members from Trenton, Princeton, and beyond joined writer/director Emily Mann and actors Yvette Freeman and Lizan Mitchell at a special reception held at Morven Museum & Garden to kick off McCarter’s upcoming production of Having Our Say. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting; the current exhibit, Let Your Motto Be Resistance – African American Portraits, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, highlights African-American individuals whose passion, determination, and talent played an influential role in shaping our country’s notion of race and status over the past 150 years.
Walking among the photos selected for this exhibit, I got to thinking that despite the many changes that have shaped our world, one thing has always been a constant: the spirit of determination and pride that is at the core of Having Our Say and the American experience. At its heart, Having Our Say is an American story, a true testament to the resilience of ordinary Americans surviving and persevering through extraordinary times. The Delany sisters are one example of this spirit, and the collection at Morven pays homage to Americans who have refused to allow their circumstances to stop their dreams or their hopes—W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Robeson, Angela Davis, Diana Ross, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, to name a few. Despite racism, sexism, and economic hardships, these individuals took a stance believing in themselves and their right to equality and the pursuit of happiness. Surveying the room last night, this spirit of pride was so apparent in our guests. After listening to Emily and the actors share their experiences working on Having Our Say and hearing from Civil Rights pioneer Edith Savage Jennings, the room was filled with excitement, a sense of pride, and a buzz that was so contagious that I know it will create a lasting memory to all who shared in last night’s festivities.
Click the link below for a few photos from the event!
Backstage at McCarter Theatre. Photo by Kristina Plucinsky.
On Saturday, March 28, McCarter donors were treated to a backstage tour of Twelfth Night. Very well conceived and presented, the tour added to the pleasure for those of us who witnessed the performance, and for the few on the tour who were yet to attend the show, the appetite was whetted.
The morning began with an introduction from Tom Muza, General Manager, who provided a brief history of McCarter and background on the production. The show was co-produced with the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, where it originated and then moved to McCarter.
Tom handed the group to Alison Cote, the Production Stage Manager, who provided insight into how an elaborate staging appears so seamless to the audience. From her seat at a “tech table” set up in the house, she told us of the little tricks she uses to run the show, among them signal lights controlled from her panel. These cue musicians, actors and, frankly, just about everything that we take for granted. During the course of the show, Alison’s voice is audible throughout the backstage area but inaudible to the audience. What struck me most was the coordination involved in each performance. It is easy to assume the actors walk on stage and say their lines; clearly there is much more involved than simply memorizing and speaking words written on a page. I wish Alison had more time to speak, she was so fascinating and, I suspect, had more secrets to divulge, but time was of the essence and we moved onto the stage itself.
It is with both disappointment and excitement that I share with you the latest news from McCarter Theatre. As many of you already know, Governor Corzine’s proposed budget reduces state cultural dollars by nearly 30%. Due to the impact of this significant cut on McCarter, along with a tightening economic outlook for our institutional funders, we have had to make reductions in expenses in the coming season. Regrettably, this situation has forced us to postpone our previously announced production of the ambitious new musical, Take Flight. We have invited the creative team (Richard Maltby, Jr., David Shire, and John Weidman) to continue developing their ebullient musical at McCarter with the goal of a production in an upcoming season.
BD Wong in Herringbone
Photo by Joan Marcus
Yet great opportunities often arise from challenges, and I am simply delighted to announce that virtuoso performer BD Wong will open our 2008-2009 season in a breathtaking performance of Herringbone. Written by Tom Cone, Skip Kennon and Ellen Fitzhugh, Herringbone isa chilling and charming musical ghost story in which an 8-year-old tap dancer becomes possessed by the vengeful spirit of a jaded song-and-dance man. As BD’s extraordinary performance (playing all eleven roles in this one-man musical) illuminates the story of an exploited child star, he dazzles and beguiles with his astonishing talent and effervescent personality. BD’s artistry, brilliance and electrifying charisma are perfectly suited to this funny, haunting and wonderful Southern Gothic tuner, which demands nothing less than a tour de force performance. BD gives it.
BD Wong is the only actor ever to receive all five major New York Theater awards (including a Tony Award) for a single role, in M. Butterfly. More recently, he has starred in the acclaimed Broadway revivals of Pacific Overtures and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Audiences will also recognize him as a recurring star in the TV shows Law and Order: SVU (as Dr. George Huang) and Oz (as Father Ray Makuda). Herringbone will be directed by Roger Rees, who began his career as an actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company before winning both the Tony and Olivier Awards for his performance in Nicholas Nickleby. Roger has directed for HBO, The Roundabout Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons and Williamstown Theatre Festival, where he served as artistic director from 2005-2007.
This production of Herringbone will be a singular event, and an extraordinary way to inaugurate our ambitious and exciting season. I look forward to seeing you at the theater.
p.s. I hope you are as concerned as we are about the crisis in New Jersey State Arts Funding, and I urge you to visit www.artpridenj.com to send an “Action Alert” to your elected officials.
Posted by Emily Mann, Artistic Director and Playwright-in-Residence at McCarter Theatre.
For those of you who haven’t yet marked it on your calendars, Saturday was Blogday—the one-year birthday of McCarter’s blog. Since we started the blog last year, we’ve had 236 blog posts and 133 comments. The blog has received 43,557 page-views in approximately 14,600 individual site visits. We have posted about 35 entries for each of our mainstage shows.
A month ago, I asked readers to nominate their favorite blog entries for the Blogday Extravaganza Birthday Bash, and today I present those winners (and a timeline of the McCarter Blog). So come join me on a walk down memory lane:
This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.