Though it may have been loaded out of the St. James Theatre on July 2, the set of the Tony-nominated revival of Present Laughter was a decorated jungle gym of scenic art. Created by Tony-winning scenic designer David Zinn (The Humans), Playbill went backstage with Zinn to learn the secrets and hidden gems of the apartment occupied by Noël Coward’s infamous Garry Essendine (played by Tony Award winner Kevin Kline).
“Our director talked about from the very beginning talked about wanting this to feel like a real person’s place,” said Zinn. “[We] wanted to seem aspirational when the curtain comes up but also something real. He’s not the richest movie star in the universe, he’s a famous stage actor in London. I wanted to make a statement about his taste and his interest and less about the crazy amount of wealth.”
Zinn showed us in an up-close view the set decorations, including actual paintings by Kline and the books that he and prop supervisor Susan Barris ordered by the yard. “Books are something you buy by the yard, but you can be specific about the era they’re from and the kind of books they are, so we talked about giving them a sense of 1939. He reads a lot of poetry, plays and biographies and some of the classic things you have in your library.”
Surprisingly, Zinn revealed that set pieces came from contemporary stores like West Elm and Anthropologie (“People are doing a ’60s and sort of ’30s revival kind of thing right now”) in addition to the pieces and paintings he created for the show—like the faux show posters of Garry Essendine’s career. Zinn even included a little joke in one: a poster for A Cold and Bitter Moon by Trenton Chester. “Trenton-Chester is actually on exit on 95 because my husband lives in Philadelphia and I always thought that was a hilarious name so I was like Trenton Chester, playwright!”
The cherry on top of the tour was the peek at the “spare room” where Garry hides his young conquests. “We only see a little slice of it [during the show], but I thought it would be the room where he keeps a shrine to himself,” said Zinn. “Theatre World was a period theatre magazine that we've put many of Kevin’s pictures in. Kevin was also—at this theatre—in On The Twentieth Century,” he explained, “but he had all of these amazing photos of himself in 1930s drag so we worked some of those into the covers.”
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