Backstage Blog

Creating a world for the imagination

The term “set design” is really such a boring phrase for, well, the set design.  Costume design is really the wardrobe of each individual character, lighting and sound designs are the atmospheres, props the personal objects of characters, and the set design is the environment.  The hard world of the play.  Tactile.


One of the challenges with Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius is that it floats between three different environments.  Not odd or uncommon or unusual in theatre.  But normally it always leads designers, directors, and everyone else involved to ask:  “Okay, how do we do this?”  So then you start brainstorming and come up with a few great ideas, a couple of good ones, and several that lead to kind of uncomfortable silence (those ideas, unfortunately, normally emanate from me!).  Mauritius has to move from a seedy, basement-level stamp shop to a street cafe to the parlor floor of a brown stone and back again.  Sean Fanning’s set allows the actors to enter from the world above down into the stamp shop – the world below.  And then this combatively comic world of philately simply, easily, and fluidly becomes a worn but still somehow elegant family home.  And I am considerable jealous of the cast that gets to play in this environment because there is a great attention to deliberate detail.

Act 2 Set for Mauritius

In the process of design, it’s always curious to me how you can run the risk of going too far.  You can add too much “reality”.  Sean Murray was wise to advise that you can go too far and open a kind of Pandora’s Box in which nothing is left to the imagination, everything is real, and what once was going to be a partnership between the suggested reality of the designer and imagination of the audience is no longer possible.  I think we’ve avoided that, I think Sean Fanning has avoided that.  Instead what he has created is very deliberate, very precise, very beautiful and still leaves much to the imagination….Now all we have to do is add the lights, the sound, the costumes, the props, learn our lines and not bump into anything!