Curtain Up: The scene is often just as important as the actors

Given an unusually slow (for season!) weekend, I have had the chance to reflect on some aspects of our local theater scene that I cannot normally pay attention to — rather than the actors, the supremely important settings.

The mise-en-scène in a good production can convey mood, tone and something about the characters. In movies, the scenery is all about verisimilitude. Even the big special effects movies focus on creating something believable. Mood must be created by the lighting, camera angles, music. Theater is different. The scenery and lighting can themselves produce an emotional tone.

We have had some excellent examples. “Doubt,” last season at the GulfShore Playhouse, had a single set which incorporated the exterior of a church and convent, as well as the office of the principal, Sister Aloysius. In the small space at the Norris Center, the action was never cramped. The appointments of Sister Aloysius’s office were just right and reflected her conservative but deeply held religiosity. The overall feel was exactly right, bringing me back to my own childhood days in Catholic school.

The very small and poorly configured theater at Community School is even more of a challenge for TheatreZone. When they stick to simplicity in their settings things can work well. The recent production of “Blood Brothers” used the barest of sets, three walls with doors and minimal furniture. Combined with the excellent lighting effects it focused attention on the actors and conveyed the dreary atmosphere of the English cityscape.

The brilliant, stark white set for “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Sugden last year was utterly stylish. Rather than trying to recreate the ornate Edwardian style that Oscar Wilde would have favored, this set represented the sort of setting Wilde would like if he were alive today. The period costumes and few pieces of scenery were set off beautifully.

Musicals are a special challenge, since most of them require frequent, quick and smooth scene changes. Of the local venues, only the Sugden has the infrastructure to support this kind of production. My favorites there have been sets with a clear overall concept. The lightness of the set for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” reflected the frivolous tone of the musical. Really extraordinary was the set for “Fiddler on the Roof.” A background of rooftops was constant, but scenes could be fluidly arranged with wagons and pieces flying in — a train station was created from a couple of pieces of furniture and a roof incorporating subtle perspective. Even more impressive were the tricks played with the painting of the set. Under different lights the set could convey a warm and pleasant atmosphere of dark browns and reds, as it did through the first act. In the final scene, as Tevye the dairyman contemplated his departure from the shtetl of Anatevka, the setting was bleak and stark.

There are miracles being worked out there. Keep an eye out for them.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features