Oslo is in the middle of tech rehearsals, known to many people as “tech hell”: long days and nights, with constant starts and stops to adjust sound and lighting. Perhaps the only member of the design team who can watch the rehearsals unfold without undue consternation, because his work is essentially done, is the set designer, in this case Michael Yeargan. I took advantage of his relative calm the other day at a rehearsal to ask him about his work here.
“I studied the photos that J.T.” – the playwright J.T. Rogers – “took when he visited the site of the negotiations,” Yeargan said. “It’s called a castle but it’s really more of a country house.” Bartlett Sher, the production’s director, did not want to recreate the site exactly. “He wanted to go for a bigger idea,” Yeargan said. “He wanted a very European space, which would contrast with the Middle East locations discussed in the play."
Yeargan said that many luxurious Scandinavian interiors are studies in contrast. “You can have beautiful walls and exquisite furnishings and then a very plain floor in bleached pine.”
I asked Yeargan to describe the wall of the set. “It’s a very, very pale grey,” he said. “It’s very useful for projections. If the wall were white it would become too blinding.” The paleness of the color, I pointed out, was very Baltic. “Yes,” Yeargan replied. “The pale yellows and pinks and greys are very Scandinavian. It would be much too dazzling to have white interiors and exteriors during the summer when the sun barely sets.”
Yeargan, who is co-chair of the Design Department at the Yale School of Drama and a Tony award winner for South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza, said that Oslo is not his first assignment involving Scandinavia. “I designed a production of A Doll’s House, and a production of Vanessa, the Samuel Barber opera.” The latter, he said, “is set in ‘a northern country.’”
More opera is in Yeargan’s future: he has designed a production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette that will premiere at the Metropolitan Opera this New Year’s Eve. Sher will direct and his and Yeargan’s constant colleague, the designer Catherine Zuber, will do the costumes.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.