Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wisey Best Set: Othello, Balagan

The nominees for best set for 2008 were:

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Walt Spangler, scenic designer.
Othello at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Rachel Hauck, scenic designer.
boom at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jennifer Zeyl, set designer.
Othello at Balagan Theatre. Jenna Schmidt, props designer.

And the winner is….Othello at Balagan Theatre, Jenna Schmidt, props designer.

The Balagan is a tiny black box. The action took place in a narrow path between two banks of seats facing each other, with entrances at each end. The space was tight, especially for swordplay, but the actors didn’t lop off anyone’s shoelaces. We were in the front row (of three) and I found myself pulling my feet in.

So in such a limited space, how to convey court and courtyard, Venice and Cyprus, boudoir and hall? Why, with big wooden boxes, of course.

The boxes, painted dark, were the only furniture. And only Iago could move them. From the moment the house opened Mike Dooly was there, in character, thoughtfully moving boxes around. During the play he arranged and rearranged the boxes to set the scenes, like a puzzle he was doing and undoing, until finally all the boxes fit together as Desdemona’s bed.

The other Othello, at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was nominated for great lighting turning the Lizzy into a gloomy, gray, spare set. OSF’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets mentioned because it had a Volkswagen bus in it. And the boom set was a great disaster bunker, replete with enough bourbon and tampons for a very long stay. I think it would have been even cooler, though, if real fish had been in the aquarium!

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