I have spent countless nights in a nest of pillows, reading into the wee hours of the morning. From C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Travelers Wife and Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, to Joseph Campell’s Power of Myth. It is a practice I began as a child, and one I hope to never outgrow. Books can act as safe havens, as friends, as maps or compasses, all regardless of their content.
The guiding presence of books is strong in Harrison David Rivers’ play when last we flew. Paul, the show’s central protagonist, spends much of his time locked in his bathroom reading Angels in America, a primary inspiration of the show and one which is consistently paralleled. But Paul is not the only character who looks to a book for comfort. Other characters look to different books for guidance, and one even uses books as a form of social critique or activism. Because of this, book pages and collage play a large element in the overall design.
Besides the faith and investment in books, I saw a degree of fracturedness in many of the characters, each of who is struggling with or searching for something crucial about their identities, missing pieces they look to their books and, ultimately, to one another to discover. Chelsea and I wanted the set to reflect this in some way. And because of the numerous locations utilized in short bursts throughout the show, with some scenes happening in simultaneous overlap with one another, we needed a set that could move as fluidly as the script, that suggested a place but left room for adaptation from scene to scene.
Louise Nevelson's work
Based off a line in the show, which addresses the remodeling of Paul’s house, we decided to create a space that had a feeling of a home in progress or unfinished through the use of flats with exposed beam walls. We’re utilizing a collage effect similar to the sculpture work of Louise Nevelson but to a much less extreme. With several collaged objects to help suggest different spaces—some grounded in reality, others more abstract representations of different characters—we also kept a lot of the negative spaces between the exposed beams.
I feel very lucky to design for a show that asks so much of its actors and audiences alike, for everyone involved to aspire for wholeness in a world that is so often the very opposite. I hope that our production inspires audiences to gather their feathers, embrace their true selves, and to seek revelation in whatever is most fulfilling to them.
when last we flew runs for a special six show engagement, opening April 13th at Richmond Triangle Players.
Tickets avalible at theatrelabrva.org
Set Designer, when last we flew