Backstage Blog

Bed and Sofa Background

bed_sofa_still1Bed and Sofa began its life as the wonderfully scandalous 1926 silent film directed by Abram Room and starring three of the Soviet Union’s most popular actors. For most of the twentieth century, Room’s film received ritual mention in Soviet and Western film histories, but mostly as a footnote in the development of the new art of film.

In the 1970’s the movie began to be taken up by a newer generation of film historians, such as Molly Haskell, who began to see it as “one of the most extraordinary feminist films of that [the 1920’s] or any other time.” The film began to make the rounds of various film festivals and began to be recognized for its frank depiction of ‘real life’ and its startling naturalistic acting style. Early American film actors had found their way into new medium of film via the Broadway stage and the circus. The acting style that we often associate with the silent era is one of broad gestures and quirky movement. This was to be expected as that was how actors worked on the stages of their era without the help of microphones, electric stage lighting, and computerized scenery. They needed to be larger and more declamatory to be heard and seen from the balconies. But, film pioneers like D. W. Griffith and Abram Room were busy creating such novel conventions as the ‘closeup’ and the ‘cut away shot,’ and thereby inventing the need for an entirely new style of acting for the film.

And Bed and Sofa was certainly that. It was an experiment in how to tell a simple story on film with only one set, three actors and a hand held camera around the busy streets of Moscow. Room’s team spun a complex and shifting tale of a love triangle in a cramped apartment during a severe housing shortage in modern Moscow. The film was an indictment of the wave of utopian ‘free love’ that came in with the revolution and was being actively stamped out by the Stalinist regime of the 1920s.

When Volodya excitedly comes to the big city to begin work as a printer he is met with the rude shock that due to government regulations, he must have a permanent address in order to hold a job of any kind. And, there is this housing shortage plaguing Moscow. It’s a “Catch Twenty-Two” that is only broken when he happens upon his old friend Kolya in the street who offers him his sofa. When Kolya, his wife, Ludmilla and Volodya set up house in the tiny apartment, a string of shifting alliances, lovers and situations are set into motion.

1920s1Polly Pen and Laurence Klavan’s adaptation of movie is a mini-masterpiece. They obviously spent a great deal of love and devotion to making this story over for the stage. To begin with, the lyrics are adaptations of the title cards in the film. These phrases and musical motifs repeat over and over again. Each new time they are sung, they take on a new context as the story deepens. It’s simple and yet, it’s very complex and extremely specific. They have managed to create a faithful reproduction of the film that still holds its own as a piece of live theatre.

I’ve been a silent film fan for many years. When we produced this play in 2004, it was just our third production (of 37 now to date!). But it was so well received (by the few people who knew of our new company who actually saw it!), that it has remained one of the most often requested revivals we have. People who saw it ask to be able to see it again. Those who missed it have asked us for an opportunity to see what the fuss was about. We know this: It was due to Bed and Sofa that audiences began to discover what this new company was about and the kind of works we intended to create.

Revisiting it has been a great experience. Rather than a straight re-mount, this version of Bed and Sofa is entirely new. The new cast is different. The set is similar but different, and with the new capabilities of the Old Town Theatre, we are able to flesh this show out even further. It’s both bigger, and smaller. We’ve been enjoying this amazing opportunity to explore the silent film style of acting and story telling. We have been faithful to the original movie and watched it and studied it for inspiration. We admired the acting in the film and then took off and brought our own insights to the piece. We hope you enjoy the surprises in this highly unique mini-silent-movie-opera. It’s both big and small. Not another word.

Mauritius; Scary, Funny and Suspenseful

Yesterday was our first preview for Mauritius. It’s always exciting for me when we open a new production but I especially get excited when the audience really get’s into a show. Last night was no exception. There was plenty of gasping and nervous laughter, just what you hope for with a suspenseful thriller.

All of us at Cygnet were pretty excited to assemble such a great cast.  Three of the principal characters in Mauritius worked together previously in our 2007 production of Communicating DoorsCommunicating Doors was such a fun production and these actors have a wonderful chemistry together.  Manny Fernandes once again plays the guy everyone is afraid of, and Sandy Campbell and Jessica John play the eccentric half sisters.  Rounding out the cast is John DeCarlo, last seen in Cygnet’s production of Bug and Jack Missett from Cygnet’s Curse of the Starving Class of a few years back.  The characters in Mauritius are pretty quirky and the actors have tapped into their characters perfectly.  I think the actors are going to have a lot of fun with this one.

The production is staged by Cygnet Associate Artistic Director, Fran Gercke.  Fran gets great support from the spot-on design team of Jessica John (yes, she’s also doing the costumes), Eric Lotze (lighting), Matt Lescault-Wood (sound), Bonnie Durben (props) and Sean Fanning (set).  I do love it when all of the components come together so nicely and click.  I just can’t wait for the theatre goers to come out and see  it for themselves.

Mauritius is a San Diego premiere and one of the newest plays by Theresa Rebeck, one of Broadway’s hottest playwrights.  We’re so excited to have been able to secure the rights to this one.   Mauritius runs at the Cygnet Rolando stage through May 10th.

Lights! Sound! Pancakes!

It’s Saturday morning and we are getting ready to begin technical rehearsals for Mauritius.  Technical rehearsals can be exhilarating, because you finally get to see all of the elements start coming together.  The lights and sound are added. The finishing touches are put on the costumes and the set.  And while the twenty or so hours can make for a grueling couple of days of “hurry up and wait,” it is always amazing to come out of it on the other side and see the huge leaps the production has taken towards being a final product.

At Cygnet, tech means it’s time for a couple of traditions.  The oldest being the magic of watching Eric Lotze work his wizardry on the light board.  Eric has been designing lights for Cygnet since the very beginning, and I’ve never seen any designer who can manipulate the lights as fast as he can.  With his eyes darting across the ceiling from one light to the next, his fingers fly across the light board’s buttons.  It always reminds me of those accountants in old movies with their sleeves rolled up, visor pulled down, a stogie firmly planted firmly in one corner of their mouth, their right hand a blur producing a steady and rapid clicking from the keys.  I swear I’m always waiting for his left hand to reach out and pull the lever.  There’s no doubt why he has won several awards.  His designs always add another level of dimension to the production.

Matt Lescault-Wood, is doing the sound design.  Matt has done several designs for Cygnet this season, including the fantastic collection of 80′s music that was on display during The History Boys, but this will be my first experience watching him work.  What I’ve heard of the sound design so far, it is going to be jazzy, hip and cool. It’s always great fun to hear a musical representation of your character and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has for my sadistic stamp collector.

The other tradition, which just began this season, is a pancake breakfast to kick off the technical rehearsals.  It’s really nice to have a few moments before we delve into the work for the designers, cast and crew to come together like a family and share a meal.  Plus feeding theatre folk is always a good idea.  Of course the success of this breakfast may rest on my culinary skills.  Somehow I was designated the flapjack flipper for this production.  Oh, the pressure.  I hope I don’t burn them.

Bed and Sofa: the latest stage

Andy Hull's model for the set of Bed and Sofa.

Andy Hull's model for the set of Bed and Sofa.

Andy Hull’s set model for Bed and Sofa.

Today we had our first formal design meeting for our upcoming Bed and Sofa. This is our first opportunity for all of the designers to get together and begin thinking about how all of our design choices are coming together. We want the ultimate product to have a cohesion, so that all of the various elements, each designed by different people, feel like they all belong to the same “world” that we are creating for the play.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the world of Bed and Sofa is that of the silent film. Since the original film was created in Moscow in 1926, we know that the look of the costumes, scenery and props will have a Soviet influence. Since we are trying to capture the feel of a silent film, we are setting the show in a world that is entirely seen in shades of grey, white and black.

Today, Andy Hull the set designer working with me on the show, presented his model of the set. We use this model as the first stage of the over all look. We can make changes on it still, but that time is now coming towards an end, as Nick Fouch, our technical director, now begins to turn the drawings and model into full size pieces made from real wood! Changes really begin to become difficult and expensive.

Here is a photo of Andy’s model. You can compare it to my first sketch. My idea for the set design came from the film. The apartment in the movie is a basement apartment and you can see the underside of the stairs jutting into the room. I liked the shape and tried to tie it in. In the musical the presence of Stalin is felt somehow as a looming Big Brother type. So we played with how to bring him into the design. I handed Andy this sketch and he has been working his magic on it. He cleaned it up and more importantly he added his wonderfully clever touches to it. The back masking flats, which will have collages of various images mentioned in the show, have the silhouette of the onion domes of St. Peters suggested in their shapes. Andy’s great.

We’ll keep you up on the progress.

Teching History Boys

I am full of anticipation today. We begin tech tonight for our upcoming production of The History Boys. It’s one of my favorite times in rehearsal: when the show that is being put together in a rehearsal room begins to actually look like a play! This is where the production begins to develop it’s “look” in the lighting and sound designs. I always love working with Eric Lotze and can’t wait to see what we come up with.

Matt Lescault-Wood is designing the sound for the show. Full of atmospheric environments that will help create the school grounds of these boys. Shirley Pierson, one of our SDSU Lipinkski Fellowship Designers, is creating the 1980′s school wear. Bonnie Durben our props. And Andy Hull, also a SDSU Lipinski Fellowship Designer, has created a sort of deconstructed school, not really literal, but definitely evokes that environment. With Stanley Cohen as my stage manager, rather the captain of the show, I am so happy to be working with all of them.

Oh, and those boys…there’s a lot of talent up there and a lot of energy. Go get ‘em guys.

Bon Voyage, History Boys!

An update:

We’ve finished teching the show and had the great luxury of doing a run thru on Sunday. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of the work that the boys and their faculty are doing. It’s just such a treat to get to work with them. They are dedicated, fun, energetic (o God, are they energetic!) and thoroughly talented.