The Atlantic Theater Company, which recently moved their earlier mainstage production (and their first musical), Spring Awakening, to Broadway, has been thrilled with the success of Harley Barker-Granville's The Voysey Inheritance. Artistic director Neil Pepe noted that the demand for tickets prompted, for the first time in Atlantic's history, a third extension.

The company went all out for their staging of Spring Awakening, so director David Warren was not to be outdone on Voysey. Set designer Derek McLane (The Scene, The Fever, Pajama Game, Little Women) and Warren discussed a set that would transport audiences into the era of play. They certainly succeeded.

There's period-correct furniture and a stunning period concert grand, but the bulk of the set is made up of 70 paintings. The first thing you wonder is how did McLane accummulate them? As it turns out, he didn't.

"We made them," he reveals. "Everything you see is based on a photograph of a room from the 1880s that I'd been long taken with. For fifteen years, I'd been kicking around how to do something like that. When I showed the photo to David, he looked up and said, 'Absolutely,' that's it!'"

It was a time-consuming process as McLane and his associates researched to find renderings of period paintings. Then they made photos, "did a lot of different things to the photos on the computer to alter them a bit" and then had them printed on canvas. "Then," adds McLane, "we painted over the surfaces with glazes to make them appear sepia-colored and to give the texture of oil paintings."

McLane also took as much color out of the prints as possible "because I wanted a muted look. By doing that, it added age and a sense of unity. With so many paintings, I didn't want to overwhelm the stage and draw too much audience attention to them. The play was the thing, so to speak."
The frames were custom made and each is uniquely different. The paintings appear to cover three walls, but they actually are the walls – hung on a three-sided steel frame.

When he got the job, costumer Gregory Gale (The Wedding Singer, Urinetown) was in California "pulling costumes" from film studio vaults to rent for Classic Stage Company's The Milliner, set in the 30s and 40s.
"David and I discussed the play," says Gale, "and the fact that he wanted the characters dressed as authentically as possible. I knew the play, so I knew what period it was in. I spent the majority of the Voysey budget on real clothing. Every piece you see is a real period garment or, in a couple of instances, an exact duplication."

The challenge, he notes, was making the aged rentals, some over a hundred years old, stageworthy. "We had to take the garments apart, make new foundations for them to sit upon and then put them back together."

For wardrobe supervisors Camryn Duff and her assistant Ryan Morrison, maintenance of the fragile garments was the challenge. "But," explains Gale, "Camryn and Ryan as well as our cast are aware of the age of the garments and treat them very carefully. Thankfully, it's a drama and not a musical where the cast is singing and dancing – and perspiring!


Key Subjects: 
Voysey Inheritance, Atlantic Theater Company, Gregory Gale, Derek McLane
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of <I>Jesus Christ Superstar</I>" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
March 2007
By Design