Trashing the Stage in Edward Albee's Goat
There are basically two kinds of scenic disorder: the jumble representing accumulated clutter, usually applied by crew members during intermission (as employed in True West, for example), and the chaos created right before our eyes when characters give way to grief, anger or frustration with an old-fashioned temper tantrum.
Pandemonium can be generated cheaply by knocking over furniture, pulling books off shelves, throwing pillows or scattering papers. In Remy Bumppo's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, however, betrayed wife Annabel Armour not only does all of these things, but also snatches up vases and figurines decorating her chic upper-west apartment and hurls them furiously to the ground, where they smash into irreparable smithereens.
Multiply this by six performances a week, and what you need is an extensive array of disposable tchotschkes sufficiently attractive to grace a home reflecting tasteful affluence—no small expense, even at Salvation Army prices. So who supplies the show with its slated-for-demolition crockery?
"In the beginning, we looked at a few stores, but we also asked artists if they might be interested in this project," recalls property designer Nick Heggestad, "Alexis Ortiz at the Lill Street Art Center seemed to get a kick out of the idea of his work being destroyed nightly, so we went forward."
Is the design of the various pieces left up to the artist, or are they made to order? "[Director] James Bohnen, [set designer] Tim Morrison and I picked out four different objects—a bowl, a plate and two vases—of different shapes. We found kiln-fired terra cotta to be very explosive and, frankly, pretty scary. So now we use unfired pottery—called "greenware"—that is significantly cheaper and tends to crumble instead of shattering into sharp-edged fragments, making it safer for both the actors and the audience."
Flying projectiles still necessitate hands-on practice to determine trajectory and after-effects. Annabel Armour remembers the first samples disintegrating at simply being lifted. The second assortment was sturdier, but produced dust in quantities detrimental to actors' breathing. And then, there was the promenade factor. "We had to find certain locations for the breaks—upstage corners, or near furniture that we'd have to step around, anyway—in order to allow paths for moving through the debris on the floor. Oh, and to make sure we didn't hit anyone in the audience—I almost took out our costume designer during an early tech rehearsal."
How often is the supply replenished? "We have a few spare pieces stockpiled on-site," reports Heggestad, "Charlie [Rasmann], who does backstage prep at every performance, keeps me apprised of when we're running low, so I can pick up another load from the gallery and paint it here at the theater." His face brightens in a grin. "Another advantage to greenware is that the shards can be recycled. We sweep them into a big box to bring back to Alexis, who grinds up the leftovers and uses them for the next batch."
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? plays at the Greenhouse through May 8.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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