In less than two months, LD Peter Mumford went from zero Broadway credits to having his name on two different plays. Two of the English LD's productions came over this spring, both of them illuminating different dark corners of male-female relationships. First up was Stanley, Pam Gems' drama about English painter Stanley Spencer, which reopened the dormant Circle in the Square Theatre and presented the New York debut of Antony Sher in the title role. Then came Ibsen's A Doll's House in a production which took the West End by storm and made a star of leading lady Janet McTeer.
Gems' play dwells on Spencer's chaotic personal life; he deserts his loving wife for a social-climbing lesbian who doesn't intend to sleep with him. Instead, she mines his social circle for professional contacts and then takes possession of his house, reducing him to near-vagabond status. For the Broadway production, Mumford embraced the oddly configured space of the Circle in the Square, noting that the theatre's deep-thrust format was similar to that of the Cottesloe, the Royal National venue where Stanley premiered. The LD used a distinctive color palette which includes unusual shades of pink and green. The pink, he says, is Lee 169 Lilac Tint; although he says that there are several greens in the plot, the main color is Fluoro Green from Lee. The colors, he adds, are "related to the paintings. Stanley talks about the number of greens in the English landscape; also, there's a pinkish tinge in many of the paintings. One wanted to make [the lighting] as painterly as possible."
Throughout the production, the LD made use of striking effects. The play's opening scene seemed to take place under the glare of one bare incandescent bulb (really the work of several subtly placed instruments). The paintings hung on the surrounding walls were often illuminated by carefully framed blocks of light. Other scenes of the painter at work, particularly the finale, seemed to glow from within. The LD notes that the effect was achieved through the use of lighting focused "very, very tightly onto the artist's pad from directly above." The glow was achieved by "light bouncing off the pad. Antony does paint and draw in the play; he needs visual access to what he's doing." Overall, the designer is pleased with the Broadway production, adding that at Circle in the Square, "I think we almost got it looking better, not being in repertory," and having to change productions on a regular basis.
Unlike Stanley, with its multiple scenes and locations, A Doll's House is the very model of a well-made play. Ibsen's tale of a 19th-century marriage's downward spiral is played out in the confines of a single box set. As a result, Mumford's work was, he says, "very different from Stanley, much more naturalistic." In many respects, the LD took his cue from the performance of McTeer. "This is much more about allowing the performance to go, go, go," he says, adding that her performance carries a certain degree of volatility: "You don't necessarily know where she's going from night to night." He worked, he says, at "creating cues which should not be very apparent, that have to do with time passing in a room, until, finally, there's just an oil lamp burning." The latter effect is the result of "long, slow cues, over a period of literally minutes as your eyes adjust to the dark." Overall, he adds, the result is "less expressionist than Stanley-more filmic, more naturalistic." In any event, each production reveals its protagonist at the end to be vindicated in his or her independence; both characters are fated to live in a solitary light.
Mumford adds that Stanley is controlled by a Strand mini-Lightpalette, while A Doll's House is run on an ETC Obsession. Lighting for Stanley was supplied by Production Arts Lighting; BASH Theatrical supplied A Doll's House. David Lander was the assistant designer on both productions.