Tag Archives: John Whiting

Season Twelve – Setting the Bar High

We opened our twelfth season with A Penny for a Song by John Whiting and closed it with Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler. In between were Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and T.S. Eliot’s The Coctkail Party. Those two, the Shakespeare and the Eliot, were technically unremarkable. Both were played against a black-curtain cyc with a platform and a throne for Merchant; two sets of furniture for Cocktail Party.

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The Merchant of Venice (1992)

But the other two, the Whiting and the Schnitzler, required sets that taxed our tech skills and resources at least as much as the ones I wrote about for our eleventh season. Penny for a Song takes place in 1804, in the garden of an English landowner, Timothy Bellboys, who has somehow convinced himself that Napoleon is about to invade England. He has stationed one of his servants on a platform in a tree so that he can spot the invading French army.

The Cocktail Party (1991)
The Cocktail Party (1991)

So we had to build the tree. (The actor spent the entire show in the tree.) He has sent to London for a Napoleon costume, so that when the French invade he will drop among them pretending to be the emperor and order them to “Mettez bas vos armes!” and to return to France. He will literally drop among them; he has purchased a balloon.

A Penny for a Song (1991)
A Penny for a Song (1991)

But the local militia is holding an exercise in the area and when the young man in the tree sees them he sounds the alarm and Bellboys descends, in costume, in his balloon—into a well. The militia take him to be Napoleon, and arrest him. So, in addition to the tree we had to build the well and the gondola and rigging of the balloon. Also, there was a gazebo on the set and the facade of the Bellboys’ mansion.

A Penny for a Song (1991)
A Penny for a Song (1991)

And there were necessary special effects: fireworks and a cannon ball that had reached the very end of its range and needed to roll onto the stage and stop just at an actor’s feet.

A Penny for a Song (1991)
A Penny for a Song (1991)

Der Reigen (It’s an Austrian play, but for some reason, perhaps because of a French movie based on it, it is usually known by the French translation of its title; La Ronde) presented a different kind of problem. It is a play in ten scenes and each scene takes place either just after a sexual encounter or it leads up to one with a different couple in each scene.  Thus:

A Whore and a Soldier
The Soldier and a Parlor Maid
The Parlor Maid and a Young Gentleman
The Young Gentleman and a Young Wife
The Young Wife and her Husband
The Husband and a Little Miss
The Little Miss and a Poet
The Poet and an Actress
The Actress and a Count
The Count and the Whore of scene one.

Reigen (1992)
Reigen (1992)

Well, that’s ten different sets; each scene takes place in a different place. So we built two revolving platforms, two turntables, each about 16 feet in diameter with a black curtained semi-circle that would hide the platform when it was turned one way and would reveal a set when it was rotated the other way. At each scene change we rotated both turntables to show a new set in one while hiding the set on the other. While it was hidden we would change all the furniture in it for the scene that would follow whatever was being played on the other, the exposed turntable.

Reigen (1992)
Reigen (1992)

It was not a beautiful show but it worked.