When I last spoke with David Cromer, the director of Rain, we sat in the audience of the Newhouse, watching the crew put the finishing touches on the floor of the playing area. There was no furniture, only the promise of what would end up there.
When I spoke to Cromer more recently, in a rehearsal room, he had a week's worth of previews under his belt. We talked again about the set. "At the end of a preview period," he said, "I always panic and want to get rid of everything, and get closer to a bare stage." This impulse, he said, is connected to his years working for resource-strapped theaters. "Because I come from straitened circumstances, I'm not used to budgets that allow me to fill a stage with stuff."
This conditioning may be economic, but it has philosophical roots. "There's a theory," Cromer said, "that all you need on a stage is a table, a chair, a bed, a liquor bottle, a book, and a light. With those elements, you can do most American plays and several Russian ones."
Cromer has been using much of his time during previews working with the actors. "We've been spending afternoons," he remarked, "going through the play onstage, ten pages or so at a time." This is not, he added, merely about character work but about making sure that the story is sufficiently clear. "The playwright had a good note after the preview: he said, 'We need to welcome in the audience a little bit more.' So we're working on that."
Cromer said that he had never spent so much time engaging in this kind of process at this point in a production. "Usually, you're more 'done' by now. It's not that we're in trouble in any way. Rather, we have a rich, challenging text and we're trying to refine how we present it."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.