A&E: Sets appeal: At Phoenix, design matters

September 22, 2008

When it comes to the Phoenix Theatre, a first-class set usually indicates a first-class show. On its stages, I've witnessed everything from seemingly t h r ow n - t o g e t h e r raggedy to impeccably pro. But the strongest, most satisfying work I've seen there-including, now, "November" (running thorough Oct. 11)-has been presented dressed for success.

Now, I'm not sure about the chicken-orthe-egg-ness of this. It could be that, when the powers that be have the strongest belief in a project, more attention (and money) is paid to design. Or it could be that an impressive, highly functional set helps the rest of the talent from taking shortcuts.

Whatever the case, my first look at David Gross' Oval Office set for "November" let me know that I was in good hands.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing gimmicky about it. It just works. And it gives the ensuing craziness the playing field on which to work its wonders.

In David Mamet's play, a U.S. president (Charles Goad) and his emotion-free lawyer (Tom Beeler) deal with three people who have three distinct agendas: a turkey lobbyist (Stephen Hunt) with cash to spend, an irate Native American (Doug Johnson) with vengeance on his mind, and a fluinfected lesbian speechwriter (Diane Timmerman) with thoughts of a high-profile wedding. Laughs-and f-bombs-fly, and while the satire doesn't run deep, it runs entertainingly broad.

The production is the first one outside of New York, thanks to director Bryan Fonseca's deftness in snagging rights and adjusting his theater's schedule. In this case-and with a solid design team-his effort was worth the trouble.

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming events to lharry@ibj.com.
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