BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) is in the midst of an extremely interesting spring season, featuring top-notch imports. Nikolai Gogol’s The Dairy of a Madman, directed by Neil Armfield, for example, came to BAM via the Belvoir theatre company from Sydney, Australia. A performance tour-de-force by actor Geoffrey Rush, who is a mid-level clerk who eventually fancies himself the King of Spain, and when led to a madhouse, believes he has been taken to Madrid, where he is bewildered at their treatment of their returning monarch. The set, designed by Catherine Martin, served as two locales: a seedy attic apartment in act one and the madhouse in act two. A raked ceiling accented the under-the-eaves feeling, offering no escape for the residents or inmates. A dirty skylight served as the only window, streaked with rain at times. A staircase came up from the apartments below in act one, with much coming and going by the foreign servant girl, played by actress Yael Stone (who doubles as a princess and madhouse inmate, playing all three roles brilliantly). The costumes by Tess Schofield range from a run-down suit and coat for Rush to a servant’s garb and a lovely white, dreamlike dress for Stone in act one to straightjackets in act two. Lighting by Mark Shelton sets the tone for each act, with a wonderful use of fixtures on the floor to highlight Rush’s extraordinary physical performance and facial expressions in different scenes. Light also changes its look through the overhead, upstage window, as the hours of the day go by. Sound design is by Paul Charlier, with two musicians playing in one of the side boxes. The production looks as if it were designed to order for BAM’s Harvey Theatre, where the shabby-chic décor provided the perfect envelope for Martin’s set, with its blood-red walls and a huge pile of newspapers that add visual interest in act one and come crashing to the floor as part of the madness in act two.
Also at BAM: The Canadian Opera Company’s production (and US premiere) of Robert Lepage’s version of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Fables. Lepage, who is the toast of the town with his high-tech Ring Cycle unfolding at The Metropolitan Opera, collaborated here with the same set designer, Carl Filion, and LD, Etienne Boucher. Filion’s challenge was to flood the orchestra pit with 12,000 gallons of heater water, in which the singers perform The Nightingale, based on the fable by Hans Christian Andersen. Michael Curry created the puppets that add to the Chinese design aesthetic of the production with its colorful costumes and boats in the water. The sets were built by Scène Ethique.
In The Fox, one of the other fables on the program, Boucher used a Philips Vari-Lite VL 3500Q spot for some fabulous shadow play by the singers: “I needed to be able to do some color changes and different textures, with only one shadow visible to the audience at all times,” he says.
“Nightingale was a bit more low tech to create than the Ring cycle,” Boucher adds. “I used moving lights because they were simpler to work with over an orchestra pit full of water. The focusing, color mixing, and texturizing could be done in a least amount of time. There was then no need to bring the grid down, and away from the water to operate the changes.
“Obviously with moving lights I was able to do more, with fewer units. It was wonderful to work with water—as soon as one source would hit the surface, it created multiple reflections all around. I needed to be able to do some color changes and different textures, with only one shadow visible to the audience at all times,” Boucher says. “With Michael Curry's wonderfully colored puppets, Mara Gotler's amazing costumes and the light shimmering because of the water reflection, it was easy to have a magical result.”