Trumpery: OLNEY THEATRE CENTER






Publication: American Theatre
Date published: April 1, 2011

Jim Petosa, DIRECTION: A year before we did Trumpery at Olney, I did a production at Boston University that explored the notion of applying abstract design vocabulary to a play. Would this play, which probes the conscience of Charles Darwin as he wrestles with his theory of natural selection, be illuminated by that approach, or feel hopelessly mired in a theatrical idea? When you read the text, it's rather naturalistic. But we wanted to find a cosmic landscape for this play that reflected a human history inside Darwin's head: this library with exploded pages, the iconic weight of the triangle, the chairs that look like a fossil accumulation below the surface. At the end of the play, die characters face a new day with this life-changing notion of evolution. The scene on the right is a fevered dream in which Darwin questions the promulgation of his theory and is tortured by it. When you get a perfect harmony of scenic design, lighting design and staging vocabulary - so that you can't see where one leaves off and another begins - you're onto something.

Jeremy W. Foil and James Kronzer, SCENIC DESIGN: The springboard for the design came partially from the materials and architectural rhythms used in the new Library at Yale University. The hovering, triangular back lit slab above the stage, the tower of books that descended below stage level and up into the fly space, and the grid wall upstage all spoke to the order of knowledge and man's manipulation of the natural. These sculptural elements could be manipulated with lighting to help the audience focus on the words and absorb the play's message. The book tower at stage right, which was illuminated from within, was also informed by a conversation we had with Jim Petosa about DNA patternsˇ - we called it the "Tree of Knowledge," because you pull all this information from it. We have Darwin's writings evaporating everywhere. The chairs strewn under the stage were a chaotic gesture in this environment of order - their joints and fastenings are reminiscent of bones.

Daniel MacLean Wagner, LIGHTING DESIGN: James Kronzer, Jim Petosa and I have worked together for years, so we have a shorthand, a visual vocabulary, that helps our process. The approach we took with Trumpery was to abstract it, with the goal of representing the journey of these characters in an impressionistic way. Design elements came to represent the natural forces in the play, and color in the lighting became a major element, both in the overhead piece and the epic bookcase at stage right. The biggest challenge was trying to get the colors consistent in the header piece, which spans the proscenium arch- - it didn't need to be a solid field of color, so we put some patterns into it. And the theatre has a good complement of color faders, so we had an almost unlimited range of color.

Peter Parnell's Trumpery ran June 9-July 4, 2010, at Maryland's Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, under JIm Petosa's direction. The production featured scenic design by Jeremy W. Foil and James Kronzer and lighting design by Daniel MacLean Wagner, costume design by Nicole V. Moody, and sound design by Elisheba ittoop. Opposite page, from left, Shelley Bolman, Jeffries Thaiss, Christine Hamel, Ian LeValley, Nick DePinto. Above, Thaiss, James Slaughter, LeValley, DePinto.

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