Linda Vista has opened on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre as the third iteration of a new play. In partnership with the Center Theater Group, Second Stage presents this Steppenwolf Theatre production of Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright Tracy Letts' funny tragicomedy about a 50 year-old divorced man in the midst of a mid-life crisis that spins his life onto a challenging path of self-discovery.
The creative team for this production, directed by Dexter Bullard, includes Todd Rosenthal, set design, Laura Bauer, costume design, Richard Woodbury, sound design, and Marcus Doshi, lighting design. The production moved to Broadway from Steppenwolf in Chicago (spring of 2017) by way of the Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in early 2019. Opening night on Broadway was October 10.
“With a new play, you have to have more inherent trust in the playwright,” says Doshi. “With Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Chekhov, you know what you are getting. It is not a moving target, you know the order of the scenes—something you don’t always know with a new play.” For Doshi, a new play requires “more flexibility” in how he constructs the overall arc of the show.
Doshi also lit another Letts play, Mary Page Marlowe, which he notes is non-linear. “Tracy is a great structuralist, and you buy into his order, and treat each scene as a vignette, and trust that the lighting arc will fall into place. And it did,” says the LD, pointing out that Linda Vista has a more defined structure.
Todd Rosenthal created a set that Doshi calls “amazing. There is a giant billboard with a scenic vista of San Diego above a set divided into four wedges on a turntable, with a light blue surround.” The wedges become various locales in the play, from an apartment to a restaurant and karaoke bar. “Authentic sets in an abstract setting,” says Doshi. “The thing is, I don’t believe realism is possible on the stage. Everything is an abstraction. But some things need to have a real authenticity. A super-abstract kitchen is hard, but things that get farther away from humans can get more abstracted. So that was the key point for the lighting of the piece…that the light that is close to the humans has a real authenticity, and the light that is farther away is more abstract. Everything in the plot was designed to support that.”
Lighting the wedges was a challenge for Doshi. “When the show was in development at Steppenwolf, Dex, Todd and I looked at the model, but we really didn’t know what the placement of the wedges would be until we got into the theatre.” Another challenge was the fact that Steppenwolf does not have any moving lights. “I used gear to cut light off the walls, but there was limited real estate for everything,” says Doshi, who used a phone flashlight to try different angles.
Realizing that the set was “a sculptural object in a larger surround environment,” Doshi also realized the lighting would not be super surgical. He designed three plots in the long run: the first he does refer to as super surgical, to light the people. The second plot lights the turntable as a sculptural object, and the third lights the floor, the sunrise, and the billboard. “Lighting each of these elements separately was a liberating take on how to light the play,” adds Doshi.
One twist involves the lamps in the billboard lights being replaced by City Theatrical QolorFLEX LED tape, as an example of an authentic set piece used in a more abstract manner.
By the time the play got to LA, Martin by Harman MAC Encore Wash WRM LED lighting fixtures were added to the rig, primarily on the floor to follow the turntable. For Broadway, the total of MAC Encores has increased to a dozen, distributed around the set.
“There are a lot of transitions,” says Doshi, “an almost 360° turn following the characters in one or following a person on a wall on the revolve with a moving light.” On a Sunday afternoon dry tech session before previews, Doshi ran one sequence, chasing two walls with two lights. “I made sure the cues were correct in the transition to make it all look flawless,” he says. “I didn’t want people to see the effort behind it.”
Doshi also implemented multi-part cues. “I like being able to work that specifically within the cue structure using auto follow, so that the subsequent cues launch automatically. It looks like a cross fade, but there is so much going on in the console.” Doshi admits it took him 12 hours to accomplish the biggest transition in the show, a moment that runs one minute and ten seconds. Complicated, but flawless to the eye. The console in question was an ETC Eos Ti. PRG is the rental shop for the Broadway production.
“The lighting on Broadway is a lot more refined,” states Doshi. “Each iteration was very different in terms of execution. We have had three vastly different theatres, and the set had to adapt. The concepts have stayed the same, but the execution is different.” The end result is that the lighting on Broadway is much more precise: “I knew what the songs were for the transitions in advance, which is helpful in terms of the time spent in tech,” the LD adds.
By the time of the Broadway production, Doshi was able to pull colors from LA into the NY show files, using the LA files on his laptop as a reference. “I had more time to make it better,” he says. “We made a ‘what if we did this again’ list with my assistant Nathan Scheuer. We paired up in LA, and I brought him to NY. He has been integral to the success of the production.”
Overall, Doshi calls his lighting subtle: “Things tend to bleach out and look more bleak as his life spirals out of control,” says the LD. “Philosophically, I am a minimalist, you don’t need to be Baroque to get an idea across. You can be a minimalist, but realize that each show has its own demands. This play goes a lot of places dramaturgically.”
These places include a post-coital scene in the dark, in a moonlit room, and Doshi responded to the realistic demands on the lighting, but kept it in a narrow band. “The design becomes more stark as things happen in his life. It is lusher in the beginning. Tracy sees Linda Vista as a bright play, so there is more saturation at the beginning, and it gets less saturated as it goes on.”
- Lighting Designer: Marcus Doshi
- Assistant Lighting Designer: Nathan Scheuer
- Production Electrician: Mia Roy
- Programmer: Kevin Wilson
- Practical Wiring Specialist: Jonathan Ramage
- Lighting Shop: PRG
- Scenic Shop: Hudson Scenic
Stay tuned for the lighting plots and equipment.