Tag Archives: Tony Kushner

Set Dressing in The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures

Last week at the Public Theater, our production of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures held its final performance. The set was a very realistic (and very cluttered) brownstone in Brooklyn, NY, circa 2007. In today’s post, I’m going to take a look at some of the little touches in the set dressing which you may not have noticed.

Bulletin Board
Bulletin board on the desk

In the farthest upstage left corner is a desk belonging to Gus, the father and apartment’s owner. The desk is overcome with papers, books, files, furniture and other knick-knacks from a lifetime of accumulation. Notice the article in The New York Times: “Dockworkers Slow Shipping.” In the course of the play, we learn that Gus was a longshoreman, and a strike by the dockworkers marked a turning point in his life. All of these papers and ephemera came from the Guthrie Theatre’s production, and were created there by Nick Golfis.

The bookshelf in the room

The set contained a large number of books—stacks and stacks of books, in fact. When the production moved from the Guthrie Theatre, many of these books came with it. However, most were law books and other nondescript leather-bound tomes. For our production, Tony Kushner and Mark Wendland (the set designer) decided we needed to replace as many of these as we could with a more realistic collection which Gus would have owned. If you took a closer look during the production, you would have noticed a remarkable collection of Communist, Socialist, Marxist and leftist books.

Inside of the broken wall
Inside of the broken wall

It is a shocking moment when Steven Pasquale first puts a statue through the wall of his father’s apartment. A close look at the wreckage would show the old and crumbly lath of the wall behind it, as well as the horsehair used to hold it all together. An even closer look would show cloth-covered wires along with porcelain electrical wire holders running along a wooden stud.

Phone number
Phone number

Here’s something you wouldn’t have seen. Above the main set was Gus’ room. During various scenes throughout the play, the audience can see Gus in his room walking around, reading, writing and engaging in other solitary and silent business. At one point, he makes a phone call. Near the end of the play, a new character named Shelle O’Neill shows up with a “suicide kit” for Gus to use. If you watch the show again, you may infer that Shelle is the person Gus was phoning earlier. In the photo above, you can see a note card with Shelle’s phone number actually written on it next to the phone Gus used. This little detail was visible only to the actor playing Gus.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Links about Props

Last night finally brought us to the opening of Tony Kushner’s new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, which we’ve been in previews for since March (and rehearsals since February!). I was the assistant props master on the show. There’s been quite a stir with Mr. Kushner this past week as well; first, he was set to receive an honorary degree from John Jay College, but then the board of trustees of CUNY voted to deny it; Mr. Kushner wrote an eloquent and biting response asking for their apology; finally, Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote an editorial on the matter and opened it up to reader’s comments.  Last night’s opening even saw some protesters show up in support of Tony Kushner.

Kushner supporters outside the Public Theater, photograph by Jay Duckworth
Kushner supporters outside the Public Theater, photograph by Jay Duckworth

It’s a fascinating (and important) story if you are involved with theatre. But if you read this blog just for the props, don’t worry, I have some links for you to finish off the week:

  • Here is an absolutely fantastic inside look at the Office of Exhibits Central for the Smithsonian Institute, which fabricates the displays and exhibits for their various museums. Besides more traditional materials and methods like mold-making and fiberglass, they have also made a huge push into new technologies like 3D scanners and printers, CNC routers, fabric printers and more.
  • No Tech Magazine has posted the table of contents from an 1837 book titled The Panorama of Professions and Trades. It proposes to show all 87 types of jobs in existence (I think there were far more than that, even at that time, but I digress). What is interesting is how many of these trades remain essential skills for the well-rounded props artisan.
  • Jean Burch has posted a list of project management skills over on her Technical Direction Tidbits blog. I fell a Props Director is similar to a Project Manager in many respects, and this list shares many of the skills which a props director also needs.
  • Do you like pencils? Here’s a whole page dedicated to pencils. You can peruse hundreds of photographs of different pencils while learning their history, as well as view some classic pencil advertisements.