When the transfer of a show from off-Broadway to Broadway is announced, most people wonder: will the cast stay intact? I wonder: what about the set? To learn about what happened to the set of "Other Desert Cities," a one-unit Palm-Springs-living-room affair designed by John Lee Beatty, in its journey from the Mitzi Newhouse at Lincoln Center Theater to the Booth, where it is currently in previews, I sat down with Jeff Hamlin, LCT's expert Production Manager. His job includes overseeing the development, construction, and installation of the physical elements of the institution's productions.
"Basically, we used everything that was in the Newhouse production," Hamlin said, "except that we had to put new carpet down." He continued: "Plus, in order to adapt the thrust-stage design for a proscenium house, we had to add another third or so to the ceiling to accommodate the dimensions of the Booth. A window wall was added stage left as well as two smaller stone walls down left and right - areas that had been audience seating at the Newhouse. There were many adjustments made to the furniture placement because of the different sight-lines in a proscenium theatre." For instance, the free-standing bar cart at the Newhouse was cut and the bar area is now incorporated into the down-left stone wall.
Considering the fact that the set had to move from a 299-seat three-quarter thrust house (the Newhouse) to the 761-seat Booth's proscenium, these adjustments were relatively modest.
But there was, Hamlin tells me, the issue of the wall. The largest element on the set, it stands toward the rear center of the living room, which is inhabited by the play's Wyeth family. "We looked at numerous options to create the wall," Hamlin said. "One of them was a Vacuform version of stone, frequently used in theater design." (Vacuform is a kind of heavy-gauge plastic.) "In the end, John Lee approved a commercially available stone product that has the feel and weight of real stones, each stone having to be individually laid."
"Getting the wall just right required a great deal of custom work," Hamlin said. "A lot of care went into the construction." Equal care, he went on, was required later. "Before the Newhouse version closed, we knew that there was the possibility for Broadway. So when we did the load-out" - what laypersons usually think of as "striking the set" - "we had to figure out a way to keep the wall in order."
Each of the wall's stones - there are around 1200 - were labeled with a number on the back, as was their exact place on the plywood wall on which the individual stones are affixed.
"It was quite an undertaking," Hamlin commented. "But I think the result at the Booth is beautiful."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.