She died in 1980, but right now Mae West is the toast of New York. That's because of the new hit comedy Dirty Blonde. Claudia Shear's script follows two separate narrative tracks, tracing West's bawdy career and recounting the love story of Jo and Charlie, a pair of modern-day West fans.
For this whimsical play, designer Douglas Stein came up with a whimsical set--a pink box that turns into various locations with the assistance of drops and Austrian curtains. A pink box, complete with ceiling, is enough to make any lighting designer see red, and LD David Lander cheerfully admits it was a big challenge.
"I was shocked," says the LD, whose first concern was "making sure the actors didn't wash out or look green in front of the pink set." The first task was to choose the appropriate color for the set. "I wanted a darker pink value," says Lander. "We had many sample pink color boards; we'd line up the actors in front of them and vote on the various tones."
With the set (and the correct pink) in place, Lander put together a plot that met the play's complex needs. For frontlight, he had a downstage electric pipe tailed down to reach in under the ceiling of the set. Lighting & Electronics Mini-Strips located at the rear were used to light various scenic drops. Units placed in tormentor positions were equipped with color and templates for various effects. In general, the LD used a clean look for the modern scenes, and employed patterns for scenes set in the past. When Charlie, as a young man, visits the aging, reclusive West, her house is suggested through dim light and window-blind templates. For other scenes, the designer used a Rosco pattern, Tortolini, to break up and soften the walls of the box.
To make the actors look pretty in pink, Lander used R33 (No Color Pink) as his basic palette. "I also used two High End Systems Studio Spots(TM)," he says, "for various followspot looks [for scenes of West in performance] and as refocusable specials. They were tricky because their color temperatures are completely different from the incandescent Source Fours [used elsewhere in the show]. There are color-correction dichroics in the unit, but I was dealing with very tight color control, so I used the dichroic, but I also taped R34 [Flesh Pink] in front of the unit, to further balance the color." Lander used a combination of GAM 170 (Dark Flesh Pink), R26 (Light Red), G245 (Light Red), G930 (Real Congo Blue), and R15 (Deep Straw) in L&E Mini-Strips to treat the Austrian curtains, which gave them a stunningly iridescent quality.
Because of the play's filmic, non-linear structure, Lander had a very busy tech, writing cues at warp speed. "The play runs 100 minutes and there are 310 light cues," he says. "The stage manager talks through the whole show." The LD had five weeks of previews to refine his work so that, by the opening, the lighting moved the action along quickly and fluidly.
Additional pieces of the equipment lineup include strobes and Reel EFX DF-50 hazers. The show is run off an ETC Expression 3X board. Much of the equipment comes from New York Theatre Workshop's in-house collection, with additional units coming from Production Arts. Jules Bowe was assistant lighting designer. John J. Anselmo Jr. was master electrician. Dirty Blonde has closed but, thanks to some of the season's best reviews, is almost certain to return to a New York theatre this spring.