Set Model for True West

MIMI LIEN—SET DESIGN When I first read the play, I felt that the house was a battleground and that, though we probably wanted to be in a room with all the trappings of a kitchen, the volume of space needed to be tweaked in some way to achieve that. I ended up making the house very shallow and pretty much bisected down the middle, so there is a sense of the two sides sparring. There are also a lot of binaries in the play—wildness/domesticity, success/failure, male/female, so this bifurcation of space felt right. I wanted to create a space that has a sense of menace within an atmosphere of domesticity. One of the reference points I landed on was the work of David Lynch, who really excels at creating that very subtle sense of menace in an otherwise rather ordinary-feeling room. There is a carefully calibrated level of stylization which subconsciously gives an uncanny feeling to the environments. The director, James Macdonald, and I decided that we wouldn’t hew to a particular time period but that the props and stuff of this world would be archetypal. The visual and tangible world of the play is a combination of old school Hollywood, the myth of the American West, and the memory of your mom’s house. I researched log cabins, 1950s kitchens, and deserts. My way into the design was through this particular green 1970s sculptured carpet that I found one day, a crazy cherry wallpaper, and a visit I made a few years ago to Marfa, Texas, which is probably the most remote place I’ve ever been.

KAYE VOYCE—COSTUME DESIGN I discovered Sam Shepard’s plays when I was in college, and I binge-read everything I could. I don’t remember my individual response to True West on first read, but my cumulative first response to his work was that Shepard writes about the America I know, an America that is messy, desperate, patriarchal, and absurd. For me, True West is about family and the fact that you can run, but you ultimately have to come to terms with that psychological inheritance. I realize more every year how formed I am by my family and what they all have gone through. I believe the brothers in True West, Lee and Austin, are still coming to terms with that inheritance. In order to design costumes for this production, I read the play—a lot. I let the stage directions and text simmer as clues. Then I look at many different photos and films, and those images inform the conversations I have with the director and actors. After that, it’s about trying to find the perfect clothes that will continue the conversation.


I’m writing this about two months before our first audience will walk in the door. As a lighting designer, I’m in the process of putting together my light plot, which is really a tool kit, or perhaps a painter’s palette, for lighting the show. I’m trying to imagine what the scenes will feel like when they’ve been staged in the rehearsal room. Who and what do we want the audience to look at, and when? How do we want the audience to feel about these characters at any given moment? How do we want the audience to experience the space? What is the rhythm of the piece? Lighting participates in subtle ways in all of these decisions.


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