Thursday, March 25, 2021

Favorite Designs: The Lighting Design of The Glass Menagerie (2013)

The Glass Menagerie
may just be my favorite play of all. That love has set a very high bar for what an excellent production of it would be to me. I've seen probably a dozen productions at all levels, and have always found something to at least appreciate about each. The 2013 Broadway revival is, to date, the best of the lot; I found it to be nearly perfect. The design of this memory play - sparsely but specifically furnished platforms hovering over a pool of inky black water suggested the ebb and flow of memories and events going in and out of focus, as such things are wont to do. Credit for the superior physicality of the setting goes to Bob Crowley, but the ethereal quality of the complete visual experience goes to lighting designer Natasha Katz. Her work on this production is one of my favorite designs of the past decade.


There are two main color pallets at work here: an icy coolness of blues and whites, and a cozy warmth of ambers and reds. There is also an amazing by-product of the lighting. It allows for some astonishing reflections. 
Separately, the whites and blues create a stark, piercing environment to pinpoint the narrator who exists in "the now." Similarly, the ambers and reds, wash over scenes that are memories. And, of course, these pools of light provide practical beams that tell us that it is day or night time. 

It is when both are used together that Katz really heightens the moods of Williams' play. When there is particular familial tension, the harsh white lights nearly overcomes the warmth of the memory. When there are murkier memories, such as when Tom, our narrator, wasn't directly involved, a warm light seems to closely envelop the other characters, while a warm blue shade takes up the rest of the darkness. It is both striking and lovely.

I read somewhere that the best theatrical lighting goes unnoticed, but is nonetheless deeply felt. I've also read that great theatrical lighting punctuates and directs your attention. Katz's design accomplishes both.  This production was nominated for 7 Tony Awards. It won just one. For Natasha Katz's lighting design.

📸: M. J. Lutch


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