We had our first preview performance last night for You Can’t Take It With You, and boy, was it fun to hear hundreds of people responding to things that director Mark Cuddy and I have been giggling at since the beginning of rehearsals! I thought it might be interesting to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at the set, and the process Geva’s carpentry, paint and props staff has taken to create the home of the Sycamore family onstage. You’ve already seen the white model of the set, which is scenic designer Bill Clarke‘s three-dimensional representation of the design. Once that model and the technical drawings arrived, technical director Jason Hawkes, the carpentry crew, and the scenic artists (painters) got to work. Geva’s sets are built and painted in our scene shop and then transported to the theatre, where final touch ups and detail work is applied.
In the picture on the left, Geva’s carpenters load in the floor and the walls. On the right, some of the furniture and soft goods have begun to appear (and I’ve even caught Bill Clarke in the corner of this picture…)
When Alice enters in the middle of Act 1 and says to her family, “Well, what’s new around here? In the way of plays, snakes, ballet dancing or fireworks,” it’s hard to imagine that she’s left out anything else that could possibly happen in this room. But, as you’ll see, she has…I took a camera up onstage during a break in rehearsal, to give you a glimpse of what the Sycamore’s are up to!
In this corner, Ed – Alice’s brother-in-law, played by Jim Poulos, keeps very busy. Ed is one of those people who does a little of everything. He’s a xylophone playing, mask designing printmaker. And this corner is where the magic happens… This image is a little too small to see the great masks on the wall, designed by Geva’s props shop. I think my favorite is the Harpo Marx mask, on the right. George Kaufman was friends with the Marx brothers (even though there are some great stories about Kaufman being forced to squirm at some of Groucho’s antics…) and he and Irving Berlin wrote The Cocoanuts for them. (And when you see You Can’t Take It With You, you’ll see at least one other nod to that…but you’ll have to spot it yourself!)
And here is Grandpa’s chair, right in the middle of it all. From here, Grandpa (played by Robert Vaughn), can easily keep an eye on his entire family, including his snakes, pictured on the right. One of them is real – can you tell which one? (He’s a little hard to see) The real snake’s name is Corny, and Grandpa’s Other Snake (one of the original title possibilities for the play, thankfully nixed by Kaufman’s wife Beatrice) is unnamed, as far as I know.
And this is Mother’s Corner, where Penny Sycamore (played by Brigitt Marcusfeld) writes her plays and runs the household. Just out of the picture here is one of my favorite elements of the set – one of the most romantic lamps you’ve ever laid eyes on. I’m thinking that it must have an impact on Penny’s writing…It’s so incredible that my quick photo shoot couldn’t do it justice – you’ll have to watch for it onstage…See that little corner of the table not covered in papers? That’s where the kittens used to sit. I say “used to,” because, much to everyone’s disappointment, the kittens have been taken out of the show. (You know what happens when a kitten is onstage? The entire audience watches that adorable little cat, and nothing anyone says matters anymore…Olive and Mickey were just too cute for their own good.)
And finally, one of my favorite pictures, on the right. This is way upstage, and it’s one of the two entrances into the room – the family’s bedrooms are upstairs or to the left (as we look at this picture) and the exterior door is to the right. I love this picture because the portraits on the wall are fascinating, and the wallpaper here was clearly lovingly applied, as scenic charge artist Apollo Weaver puts it, “quite a long time ago with great care but little skill (like so much in the Sycamore family).” The floor tiles were painted individually and then installed one piece at a time to make the perfect pattern.
That’s a quick tour around the set, with the work lights (and not the lighting by Anne Wrightson). I’ll add a few more pictures next week from a professional photographer. But I hope that this has given you a sense of just how much goes on in this living room, and a peek at what I love about this design – that it captures so well the heart of this play, and the soul of the Sycamore family.