LD Matthew McCarthy’s Caribbean Odyssey

The Odyssey, as adapted by Derek Walcott and produced by Off Broadway’s Willow Cabin Theatre Company, has a distinctly Caribbean flavor--from the island lilt of the dialogue to the percussive score. And let’s not leave out the lighting by Matthew McCarthy, which bathes the stage in warm sunshine one minute, then works up a storm in the next. In fact, McCarthy’s lighting is most notable for the way in which it brings a seemingly endless series of inventions over the course of a three-hour-plus running time. Shadow-filled sequences are followed by blazing sunlight washes, which in turn are replaced by sultry, colorful sidelight washes that imply a deeply sensual undertone. If The Odyssey is an epic story, you can safely say that McCarthy has matched it with epic lighting.

The LD worked with scenery designer John Kasarda, whose skeletal conception included a series of lighting towers that wrapped around the stage, plus a drop cloth that can cover the floor and also act as a backdrop. "It was always in John’s design to have the towers," says McCarthy, who adds that Kasarda suggested the addition of scoops on many of the tower units, which, when lit, can create a stunning sunlight effect.

This basic scenic concept in place, McCarthy says, "We went through the play together, figuring out how to use the sail, bouncing ideas off each other." One by one the ideas fell into place--the use of shadows in some scenes, the placement of units in the towers to uplight them for the scene in which Odysseus and his men encounter the Cyclops. From there, McCarthy began spinning more and more inventions--using the light to carve out various spatial arrangements, sometimes covering the deck and sometimes breaking it up.

Photo ©2002 Carol Rosegg

He adds that most of his work involved angle and area--"I tried to keep it relatively color-simple. I was working with a wide variety of skin tones." Instead, he got a range of tones by working with intensity levels of no-color light. Nevertheless, for certain scenes, there are bold washes of color--for example, when Circe appears, the stage is bathed in deep red.

McCathy, who worked without an assistant on this project, adds that his longtime collaboration with director Edward Berkeley--"we’ve probably done a dozen shows together"--as well as with Kasarda, made the job easier. "We met once a week for a month and a half before rehearsals," he says. "Once we got into the theatre, we didn’t need to talk because we knew each other’s ideas so well."

McCarthy’s rig consists of just over 200 ETC Source Four units, plus the scoops on the towers, all controlled by the ETC Express 125 console. "We also did dimmer doubling," says the LD. "They did a great job fitting all the racks in there [The Theatre at St. Clement’s]. They brought them in, in 24 racks, and stacked them up." Also included in the gear package is an Atmosphere hazer from MDG. Equipment was supplied by Fourth Phase.

Having received a number of warm reviews, The Odyssey continues its run at The Theatre at St. Clement’s.

Other photos by Matthew McCarthy.