BC: Our discussion started on a train. It was just after the Tonys. John and I were on a train to ART. We designed it on the train journey, and then we got off the train and went to Cambridge to describe the production to them. And that’s the production on Broadway right now. Nothing has changed. It’s had an eccentric life, this design process, but I highly recommend designing on trains.

We talked about isolation. We talked about how memory is very unreliable, how everyone has his or her own version of the same story. At its essence, stage design is a metaphor for something. It’s representing something that isn’t real. The situation is real, but it’s the character’s memory of it. We decided to strip it all away. How can you do the play with the least amount of stuff on stage? And John stuck to that. He stripped down the actual glass menagerie to just one piece—the unicorn—that represents the full menagerie.

NK: I wasn’t on the train, and that’s okay. They explained the fire escape and the idea of black watery tar around, and then Bob made a model of it. That is when I really understood. They described this artist who makes art with black tar.

LD: What were the challenges of this particular production?
I’ve done water on stage before. I flooded the Beaumont stage for Twelfth Night, but I’ve never done this kind of black. We wanted a feeling of floating, almost in the cosmos, in time in some way. We had to do all sorts of trials with coloring water—putting glucose into it to thicken the water, so it’s not constantly rippling when they are walking on the platforms. You are conscious of it, but you’re not so conscious of it every time they walk. We had to do a lot of experimenting at ART, and it was a challenge for Natasha to light what are essentially three platforms suspended in space with no walls, keeping the light off the water and off the backdrop, so they look completely suspended in time, a challenge she has risen to magnificently.  

It is beautiful from downstairs. The fire escape just goes up to heaven forever and ever and ever. If you sit upstairs, you don’t see the fire escape because it gets cut off by the proscenium arch, but you see the pool, and you see their reflections and that they are completely marooned. They can only get onto the set by going down through the floor. You can’t get onto the set from the wings, which made the tech process tricky for lighting especially.

NK: We had no idea what the black watery stuff was going to do. I had no idea as a lighting designer what would happen. When we first lit the show at ART, for the first two days, they didn’t pour the black stuff in because they were worried about dust and that they wouldn’t be able to get access to the stage. So the show was essentially lit without it.

The black “water” was much more forgiving than I expected it to be. It was so forgiving that we thought we would be able to project things onto it, but you couldn’t at all. The light just completely disappeared. It just sort of sucked the light right up. It was very, very helpful that it turned out that way.

And then the light plot is designed with much more area lighting than I might normally use because I felt like I really needed to be able to isolate it off of little parts of the platforms, so it wouldn’t go into the black water. In a place where I might have had two areas, there are six. That ended up working extremely well. I was able to really chip away at the sculpture. My tools became much more precision-like because I had so many different areas.