Designs are never arbitrary, and play a bigger role in storytelling than we sometimes acknowledge.
Posted by: Delvino 07:54 am EDT 03/20/20
In reply to: re: "American Son" on Netflix - Snowysdad 11:00 pm EDT 03/19/20


I was pondering this about "Hangmen," the last B'way production I'll see for ... a while. The designs are vertically maneuvered, lit, done in front of us, lending a participatory aspect to the audience: the sleight of hand is on full view, making transitions part of the storytelling. We watched these locales slide down or up, and it's both arresting and jarring. Once in place, with most action in a pub, we have a feeling of time and place, with real weather, day and night skies. But the concept wants us to feel involved in that movement from place to place, to take part in the machinery. The stylization of movement, one tight space pressing down on another, is appropriate in a play about a vertically realized death: dangling from a rope. Am I being too interpretative? Vertical makes sense, as the overriding image of the evening is a rope from a beam to a neck. Something seen, as in a long shot in a film.

"Greater Clements" did this earlier this season with more obviously specific plot/locale and thematic motivation: the play is about layers of existence over an abandoned mine. It was a fairly imagery-rich concept that had one or two powerfully realized moments (flashlights, a ceiling trapping players), if many much discussed sightline problems.

Verisimilitude in a naturalistic tale like "Native Son" adds. I suspect the designers would argue that the slick, condo-like environment created a contrast against the dark story, a purposeful juxtapositioning of a tony upscale and very white world with the marginalized people who are arrested and brought in. If that's intellectually valid, it's theatrically a little tricky, since we feel we're in ... well, a theater, looking at a pretty set. Pretty sets can work against a story's ability to grab us quickly and hold us. Unless pretty is part of the tale. in "Other Desert Cities," the gorgeous set was absolutely integral, and the shifting winter skies over the desert enhanced everything that took place.

Anyone have other immediate examples?

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