Filed under: A Moon for the Misbegotten | Tags: A Moon for the Misbegotten, Bill Clarke, designer interview, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, MRT
BILL CLARKE – SCENIC DESIGN INTERVIEW
Bill Clarke has been one of the most popular scenic designers at MRT for many years now. If you have been a subscriber for the past several seasons, you have undoubtedly seen several of Bill’s sets on the Liberty Hall stage. Last season Bill designed the set of A Delicate Balance, a production that just won seven IRNE awards, including the Best Scenic Design prize. Earlier this season he worked on Skylight, and he is back for the final show of the season, A Moon for the Misbegotten. After the IRNE awards, I had the chance to email with Bill about his thoughts on designing O’Neill plays, and his work at MRT.
A Moon for the Misbegotten has been produced many times over the past 60 years. Does that make your job more difficult? When designing the set, did you make a conscious effort to stay away from designs and ideas you may have seen in past productions?
Yes, in general I do. That said, certain plays are just located in such a very specific locale that it would require an aggressively avant-garde perspective to do much to alter them, and Moon for the Misbegotten falls into that category in my opinion. Details may vary somewhat, but O’Neill is clear both in the stage directions, and more importantly, throughout the text about specific characteristics of this place — its rockiness, general, inhospitably the ramshackle nature of the clapboard shack itself. Different designers might achieve a sense of the overall contextual world in different ways, but the house itself is a pretty well-known archetype.
Are there any differences between the houses at MRT and Virginia Stage Company that have forced you to modify the set?
Very much so — the VSC is stage is standard Broadway-scale proscenium, while Merrimack’s is an intimate “hybrid” kind of space — originally a lecture hall, without wings, flyspace or a traproom, formerly used as a thrust theater and recently converted to an intimately-scaled proscenium. Everything had to be scaled down a good bit. We’ve sacrificed much of the sense of the broad expanse of the “sky”, but the heart of the play — its iconic image if you will — is Josie and Tyrone sitting on the porch, and that will be unchanged. In addition, there’ll be a greater sense of intimacy and closeness to the action, and I think that will be a very powerful asset here.
How closely did you work with the lighting designer on this production?
Quite closely. Beverly Emmons is an amazing figure in the lighting design world and I never imagined I’d get a chance to work with her. She’s not only a brilliant designer, but was extremely meticulous throughout the process of collaboration. And of course, the passage of time –from afternoon, through late night, ‘til the dawn the next morning, — is a vital element to any production of this play.
Have you had the chance to work on any other O’Neill plays? If so, how would you compare them with A Moon for the Misbegotten in terms of set design?
Yes in fact Long Day’s Journey into Night at Indiana Rep was the first job I was offered out of grad school. Interesting contrast, because that play takes place in an even MORE specific locale than this one; being so autobiographical, it is set in the living room of his family’s house in New London, CT, which is open to the public and which I visited. It’s a great idea to see it, but frankly — and ironically — I think you can’t really reproduce that locale very closely — it’s simply too small, dark and cramped. Oddly, it doesn’t feel like it’s on the waterside, and I think that’s important. I also think the nature of that play, oddly, makes it amenable to slightly less naturalism. That my gut feeling anyway.
MRT audiences have seen your work on stage many times over the past several years, and you have worked on some of our most popular and critically acclaimed productions, including A Delicate Balance, Secret Order, and Dinah Was. Looking back, do any stick out as favorites that you are particularly proud of?
Well I loved A Delicate Balance — as did the local critics obviously! In terms of production, I really loved The Homecoming — although I might do the set a little differently right now. Purely in terms of the set, I guess I was pretty happy with The 4 of Us, Boston Marriage and The Price.
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