In designing the lighting for Rose and Our Lady of Sligo, Johanna Town was faced with similar challenges: how to create a sense of movement onstage. Both of these plays, which transferred from London to New York last season, feature a central actress who remains more or less stationary. In fact, as Rose, Olympia Dukakis never once moves off a bench, while in Our Lady of Sligo, Sinead Cusack does occasionally leave a hospital bed and walk around a little.
Written by Martin Sherman, directed by Nancy Meckler, and with sets by Stephen Brimson Lewis, Rose (right), produced on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theatre Company, follows the title character through her life experiences as a Jew in the 20th century; a life that takes her from a nostalgic sun-filled childhood in the Ukraine to the seediness of Miami Beach. "We needed to see her move through her story, and change the mood," says Town, who created slow transitions and long cues. "There are actually 45 to 50 cues," she notes. "More than one would imagine."
Dukakis sat on a hard bench as she is sitting Shiva, or in mourning, with the set of a living room upstage, behind her. "There is color and light coming in through the windows to indicate that there is a world out there, as the play moves from afternoon to evening," says Town. The action also moves from location to location in the actress' reveries, so Town often changed the lighting in keeping with various sound cues to indicate shifts in mood or locale.
In one of the smallest rigs (provided by Production Arts) recently hung on Broadway, Town used only 110 fixtures, and this was still double what she had used to light Rose in London. "The set was slightly different in the Cottesloe, and we added a scrim for the New York production," notes Town. "This gave me more opportunity to be adventurous and gave us more stage to play with."
Thirty ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (10-degree instruments front-of-house and 19-degree overhead) with different colors (but no scrollers) were focused on Dukakis' face, with Pale Blue (Rosco 63) and Pale Yellow (R07) as cool facial washes. Town used a dark blue (Lee 195) and steel blue (L174), as well as a color temperature correction blue (L201) as stage washes in 2k fresnels.
Town added leafy gobos and breakup patterns to give texture to the floor, and to indicate outdoors. She also played with shadows as if the sun were moving through the sky above the set, with light streaming in through venetian blinds and creating vertical lines on the floor.
Also played on a single set is Sebastian Barry's Our Lady of Sligo, produced in New York by the Irish Repertory Theatre, directed by Max Stafford-Clark, with sets by Julian McGowan, and starring Sinead Cusack. While Town lit the original production in London, the New York version was re-lit by Matthew O'Connor who serves as production electrician and Town's assistant.
The action takes place in a Catholic hospital room in the 1950s and 60s. "The look is gothic," says Town, describing a room with old-fashioned arches, wooden floors, religious pictures, and a hospital bed in the center. There is a gauze window upstage center to show that here too, there is an outside world.
"We had to create a natural environment with the cold, gray daylight of the hospital room changing to dream sequences," says Town. As the central character relives her life, the lighting changes to a soft pink to represent dancing (left), it becomes sunny as she runs through a field, and dark as she remembers her unhappy home.
Once again Town used ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, as well as a few 650W fresnels to add a softer focus. "The 1kWs were too strong," notes Town, who also added PAR cans for color washes in the memory scenes. Her color palette includes her favorite blues, Mist Blue (R61) and Pale Blue (R63), to give a coldness to the room. Pale Yellow (R07) indicates the sun, with Dark Bastard Amber (R03) for the dream sequences and full color temperature correction orange (L204) as candlelight.
In scenes where Cusack awakens into a dream, Town created a dusky feel with Zenith Blue (L195) and Alice Blue (L197). "It's very dark, but you can still walk around in it," she says.
"In Our Lady of Sligo, we move from naturalness to dream sequences with ghosts," notes Town. "In Rose, we are rooted in reality all the time, but we cheat it a little so we know where she is in her head. Same concept, different approaches."