Jack Was Kind, NYC Nov-Dec 2022

Started by scenicdesign71, Nov 12, 2022, 05:24 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


You cannot view this attachment.


Upon its Zoom premiere in fall 2020, this play was picked by the NYT as one of the year's ten best solo shows for online viewing.  It was published by Samuel French the following spring, and then, almost a year and a half later, its world stage premiere was announced for the 2022-23 season at Irish Rep.

I had been intrigued by the Zoom performance, but was pleasantly surprised to be asked to design this premiere production (barely six weeks ago, and quite out of the blue, just as Curious Incident was getting ready to open downtown).  It has been a fast process, and not without bumps, but for me it makes a very gratifying finish to this challenging past year of theatrical re-opening.

Jack Was Kind had its first preview performance last Wednesday Nov 9, opens this Thursday Nov 17, and runs through Sunday Dec 18.


Jack Was Kind marks the first time that a show I've designed has been photographed by the great Carol Rosegg!

I'd been holding my breath to see these photos ever since she came to take them at our final dress rehearsal last week -- and they turned out even lovelier than I'd hoped:  [CLICK HERE]

As I mentioned the other day, this is a resolutely small and simple design (which is to say, deceptively less small and simple than it looks): essentially, a tiny jewel-box in which a single performer sits in front of her smartphone's camera and tells a story, to it and to us, for 75 minutes.  Comprising barely a dozen objects in total, with little perceptible change or movement to speak of, every minute design decision had to be just right.  It was fun, and sometimes a little maddening, and, in the end, uncommonly rewarding to be able to drill down into each and every "small" choice with such precision and focus.

After working on such a satisfyingly intimate scale, and spending the past month sweating the details, it's an honor indeed to have the finished production captured by an artist of Ms. Rosegg's caliber.


After seeing the second preview, I was away until opening night, last Thursday.  I brought my mom to see the show and enjoy the brief reception afterward; the last production of mine she saw in person was more than four years ago, so it was really, really nice to have her there.  And the opening performance was flawless: I couldn't have been more pleased, or prouder of the work we all did to bring this play to the stage.

Sadly, the two reviews we've gotten so far have been mixed-to-unfavorable.  Both critics were plainly unwilling to accept the play's built-in challenge (a woman sitting at a table monologuing, often rather elliptically, for an hour and a quarter), and therefore wholly oblivious to the meticulous structure and superb writing that Tracy has built within those stark parameters.

One of the reviews -- seemingly on some kind of vengeful mission to spoil every last plot revelation, starting with its headline -- arrives at a provocative but woefully ill-supported conclusion, of the casually obnoxious "here's what they should have done" variety.

The other is a collection of astute observations bobbing atop what turns out to be a pretty deep well of incomprehension, for which the writer ultimately opts to blame the show, with a regretful shrug, rather than attempt any deeper engagement.

All of us who worked on this play knew it wasn't an easy ask for audiences, but it's discouraging when even the designated explainers -- the critics -- miss the boat this completely.  Even some of the capsule audience reviews on Show-Score (where we currently rate a 76, not terrible but certainly not great) are actually more on-target.

At least Tracy's extraordinary performance is rightly acknowledged by most (viewers and reviewers) -- though the physical production has gotten, in my obviously-biased opinion, undeservedly short shrift.

I did find one other review which, while still not fully apprehending the script's intricate architecture, is at least on-board enough to appreciate what's there rather than jumping to complain about what isn't.  I'm guessing that this reviewer may have at least vaguely intuited that there are deliberate dramaturgical reasons (even if she can't quite put her finger on them) for the play's structural austerity, its slow parcelling-out of information, and the way it privileges psychological nuance over dramatic fireworks.

Or it could be that I'm inclined to give this reviewer the benefit of the doubt, in part, because she manages a few nice words for the creative team.

And even still -- one more whine, last but not least: nowhere in any of these reviews is the gorgeous, exquisitely subtle lighting of my colleague Kate McGee given its due.


From last week, though I just came across it this morning:


A nice mention of the set, and an overall much more favorable review that also, gratifyingly, "gets" some things others haven't.  It even made me realize for the first time, duh -- and I've spent plenty of hours before now thinking about this play -- that, like it or not, having the solo performer "just sit there" for the entirety of the performance is, in a sense, thematically central to the story she and we are telling.  (Our show poster even includes the phrase in its tagline, in what I'm now choosing to interpret as a kind of audience warning).

In a somewhat similar fashion, one of the unfavorable reviews linked above made me pause to reconsider a specific pair of video cues in the show in a way that actually both altered and clarified their potential meanings for me (though that reviewer's "why?" still makes me want to go back in and tweak those moments in hopes of clarifying them for him).

I'm working on a finished portfolio clip of the digital set model, which I'll post here with my usual long-winded explainer.  But it may take awhile yet: the animation is becoming as ambitious, in its own way, as my Much Ado and Don't Look Back clips earlier this year, as here I'm trying to illuminate the deceptive intricacy of a design whose tiny scale and apparent simplicity are all that likely register to most viewers.  (That is as it should be, by the way; I'm not complaining.  While showing the design at our first table read, I actually invoked the truism that simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve -- getting there is tricky, time-consuming and can actually be fiendishly complicated in its own way; and this set, both in design and execution, has indeed been an apt demonstration of that old cliché).


In the meantime, here's a still image:

You cannot view this attachment.

Fun fact: the windows are technically not rear-projected (i.e., from a projector onto R.P. material).  Instead, the dappled "exterior" background (consisting of various subtly morphing still images and videos, layered together and color-manipulated) actually streams to a pair of 65" 4K video screens mounted side-by-side directly onto the back of a single very wide "letter-slot" opening in the black duvetyn-covered upstage wall of the set; the surfaces of the screens essentially serve as the "glass" of the windows themselves.  The video screens provide great image resolution, brightness and contrast -- they're bright enough, as our lighting designer observed during tech, to be useful as a significant source of "cast" light -- which in turn allows the images to cut through stage light without getting washed out, and provides a vividly plausible sense of vibrant daylight outside.  (We actually ended up dialing the screen brightness down a bit, partly to achieve a darker "video black" for the final blackout at the end of the play, but mostly because seeing the video at full blast over that much screen area, in such a close and dark environment, for a solid hour and a quarter, eventually produced an unpleasant glare -- this despite the fact that the video content consists almost entirely of very soothing, relatively low-contrast leafy bokeh backgrounds, mutating almost subliminally among different levels of blur and abstraction, and varying color temperatures, over hypnotically long five- and ten-minute crossfades).

Fun fact #2: All the wooden mullions and muntins, built into that letter-slot to divide the window/screen surface into 24 panes, are black -- but all their edges are actually painted white, to catch light from the video landscape "outside" and bring out the (admittedly modest) three-dimensionality of the windows' construction.  Originally these edges were black as well; but our lighting designer had succeeded so brilliantly at keeping light off the walls and windows (so as to isolate and sculpt the sitting figure within my carefully-constructed "black void") that the all-black window frames showed no visible thickness whatsoever, their true depth lost in shadow.  Even with quite a lot of "exterior" light glowing onto their black edges from the bright video screens directly behind them, the windowframes -- both the narrower muntins and even the thicker, deeper vertical mullions dividing them into four sections of six panes each -- just registered as completely flat 2D silhouette.  (At that point I half-joked that, instead of bothering to build those windows in wood, we might as well have simply indicated them by laying strips of black tape directly onto the video screens).  So I had the edges painted white -- which might be expected to make them "pop" cartoonishly, but in fact, they still catch so little light that this isn't the case at all; while the windows' depth is now just visible, as intended, the effect is actually so subtle that you'd never in a million years guess it was being helped along by a bit of paint.  Highlighting the edges to "force" these windows' true architectural thickness is a fussy detail, but well worth the effort, on a set with so few details to highlight.

Fun fact #3:  Even that lengthy last paragraph slightly oversimplifies the window-edge solution.  Rather than all white edges, I actually had the scenic artist paint the top and right edges of each munton/mullion white, and the bottom and left edges a medium grey.  This suggests directional sunlight falling from right to left (and from above, obviously), an orientation subliminally reinforced by preshow video imagery establishing a bright solar lens flare glimmering through the blurred "foliage" in the upper-rightmost quadrant.  It may also help in the subtlety department; had all of the edges been painted white, the risk of cartoonishness might have risen perceptibly -- although I have to say: to my surprise, even the edges that are pure white don't jump out at you appreciably more than the grey ones; under stage light, the effect really is amazingly subtle, and astonishingly realistic.  It brings back just a whisper of the dimensionality that would otherwise be entirely lost in darkness, but does so without even a trace of visible artifice.  And unlike most painterly illusion (such as flat trompe-l'oeuil suggesting depth where none exists), there is no "ideal" viewing angle required for the effect to work 100% perfectly.  Since we're actually just highlighting dimensional depth that does already exist in the construction of the windows, it's every bit as effective -- and the "trick" every bit as undetectable -- from any viewing angle, anywhere in the house.

And that is incalculably more than anyone on Earth ever cared to know, or ever will, about some windows.


The Drama Desk Award nominees for 2022-23 were announced today.

Our brilliant playwright/performer Tracy Thorne has been nominated in the acting category of Outstanding Solo Performance for our production of Jack Was Kind at the Irish Rep last fall!


:) :) :)