Sometimes, I forget who I’m talking to. Years ago, in my salad days, I interviewed Meryl Streep and asked her if she’d ever seen any plays by Christopher Durang. She nodded politely and we moved on to the next subject. It was only the next morning that I learned she not only knew Durang’s work but was in one of his plays – The Idiots Karamazov – when they were both at the Yale School of Drama.
I felt similarly foolish recently after a couple of brief conversations with David Rockwell, the set designer for The Hard Problem. He entered an afternoon tech rehearsal in the Mitzi E. Newhouse wearing an earpiece. I asked him what he was listening to. “The Bears game,” he replied. (Chicago was playing the New England Patriots and lost 38-31.) Rockwell said that he’d been a longtime Bears fan. “Have you been to many NFL games in your life?” I ask. “A few,” he answered.
Cut to a few days later. It is the post-performance party at PJ Clarke’s restaurant for The Hard Problem, after the first preview. A Miami-Houston football game is playing silently on the TV above the restaurant’s bar. I was watching. Rockwell approached. “Who’s winning?” he asked. “Houston,” I replied. “I hear the stadium in Houston has spectacular corporate suites,” I offered. “I’ve heard that, too,” he said. “The only NFL stadium suites I’ve ever been in,” I went on, “were at a Giants game, over in New Jersey. You ever been to one of the suites there, at Met Life Stadium?”
“I designed them,” Rockwell replied.
To be honest, I felt less sheepish at that point than I did after speaking with Streep. As a theater fan, I should have known that she worked early in her career with Durang. (Fun fact: The Idiots Karamazov’s stage design was by Michael Yeargan, who designed My Fair Lady, currently in LCT’s Vivian Beaumont.) But The Rockwell Group, which Rockwell founded in 1984 and which today has offices in New York, Madrid, and Shanghai, does not only set design (Rockwell’s previous LCT work was for A Free Man of Color and for Falsettos) but work in hospitality, cultural, educational, healthcare, and product design. It was more understandable that I wouldn’t be up on every one of its projects, past and present.
As Rockwell collected his drink from the PJ Clarke’s bartender, I asked him which was larger, the stage of the Newhouse or a suite at Met Life. “Depends on the suite,” he answered. “Some are larger, some are smaller.” “And the overall seating capacity of LCT stages relative to the stadium suites?” I inquired. “There are more than 200 suites at the stadium,” Rockwell said. “Each one has around 20 seats. You don’t need to do the math – it’s not a hard problem.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com