More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 3)

By Karen Krolak

continuing on with our discussion with Jason Ries, Production Manager for Actors' Shakespeare Project and Monkeyhouse about his set design for Taming of the Shrew...

karen Krolak: Ok so let's return to Taming of the Shrew. The "Wild Cat Club" is a fairly awkward performance space. How did it inspire you?
jason ries: I had the advantage of working in there on three previous Actor Shakespeare Project shows. As you know, I also designed lights for ASP's Loves Labours Lost in `07 in that space. However, walking into that basement space at the Garage, there are several elements that immediately look like challenges. Columns, low ceilings, weird angles and slants abound. There isn't a square corner or symmetric shape in that room. I'm fairly confident that Stonehenge was built with more digital considerations. Between overhead water pipes that travel at different angles than the rake of the concrete floor (which isn't consistent within 12" spans in some places) and pillars filled with re bar at unusual intervals (destroying more than our share of concrete drill bits), we certainly had a lot of fun in there trying to figure out a lot of the elements - which, of course, is what it's all about.

kK: Uff, how did you manage to juggle all of those elements?
jr: Having a sense for how we were going to stylistically frame Shrew before we walked in there, we immediately saw those as welcome additions to the barroom hijinks rather than obstacles. I want to make sure to credit Melia Bensussen, our director, for creating the framework, for seeing the potential of the room from the get-go and for her openness in going with me as I was sussing out how the awkwardness of the space could work for us. Her flexibility in working with the idiosyncrasies of that space always encouraged me to keep playing.

kK: With more productions in the Boston area embracing the concept of an ambient set, for example Sleep No More, how have audiences reacted to your design?
jr: Oh, they have booed and cursed me every night then threw walnuts at the center column ;) Seriously, I have heard a lot of favorable comments. People have said that they feel like they got the "inside jokes" which is always rewarding, as long as people are not distracted by the setting. I think that's success if they simply feel like they're in a world that allows them to access the story whether they consciously recognize it or not. That's the general sense I'm getting from audience response (that and some apparently genuine excitement about the "rough magic" at the end!) Some unattended kids were banging around on the jukebox at intermission when I was there last weekend. Made my eyes go watermelony at first - but then realized that how much of a genuine dive-bar moment that and was rather delighted by the verisimilitude. You may now go and look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.

kK: Thanks, as you know I think you did an amazing job but I am admittedly biased.
jr: You are very welcome. Keep these Monkeyhouse interviews coming as I have learned quite a bit by reading them.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady

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