A Life in the Theatre: Santo Loquasto
By Mervyn Rothstein
Meet Santo Loquasto, the scenic and costume designer who has created worlds for Joseph Papp, Woody Allen and David Mamet — including this season's A Life in the Theatre.
"My love affair with theatre began when I was five," scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto says. "I was kicked out of kindergarten, and my mother enrolled me in a children's theatre program. I went from being a rather contrary child to a model, well-behaved little boy. I made a tree out of crushed aluminum foil with real branches. I guess it evolved into the trees in Waiting for Godot and Fences."
Loquasto, 66, has been working in theatre for a half century; he has been the scenic and/or costume designer of more than 60 Broadway shows, among them American Buffalo (original and recent revival), Lost in Yonkers, Ragtime (original and revival), Fosse, Movin' Out, the 2009 revival of Godot and last season's Race and Fences. He has won three Tony Awards — for the sets of Cafe Crown in 1989 and the costumes in The Cherry Orchard in 1977 and Grand Hotel in 1990 — with a total of 16 nominations. This fall he is the scenic designer of the revival of David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre, starring Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight.
He has also designed for dance and film, including more than 20 Woody Allen movies, gaining Oscar nominations for the production design of "Radio Days" and "Bullets Over Broadway" and the costumes for "Zelig." His first Broadway show, in 1972, was David Rabe's Sticks and Bones, which won the Tony for Best Play; his second, later that year, was Jason Miller's That Championship Season, which won both the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize.
Loquasto was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and started working in summer stock at 15. "The first Broadway show I saw, in the mid-1950s, was the musical L'il Abner. We took the train from Pennsylvania to New York and would stay in the old Astor Hotel. When I was 15, I saw Gypsy. I still have the ticket stubs."
He graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre; began working at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, where Nikos Psacharopoulos, its co-founder, "played a crucial role" in his career; graduated from Yale School of Drama; and worked in regional theatre — at Hartford Stage, Arena Stage in Washington, and Yale Repertory and Long Wharf Theatres in New Haven. Then came his move to New York, and Joe Papp's Public Theater.
"The director Jeff Bleckner and I had gone to school together at Williamstown, and he had directed Rabe's The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel for Papp. He asked Joe if I might design sets for Sticks and Bones. Then I did Championship Season and Shakespeare in the Park and became a staff designer at the Public. I did 33 productions there. I counted them when Joe died," in 1991.
Working with Papp, he says, "was amazing — he was impetuous, and he could be terrifying, but he was usually completely charming. He could be paternal. He was always kind to me and supportive — he trusted me, I guess."
A Life in the Theatre is his fifth Mamet collaboration. "It's a fascinating challenge. It's a valentine to theatre, which seems a little out of character for him because it's somewhat sentimental. It is housed within the confines of a theatre, with a relationship to an unseen audience — but an implied audience."
Is there anything Loquasto hasn't done that he'd like to do? "I'd like to design a rarely done Chekhov — maybe Platonov. But it's always fun to work with new writers and young directors. It's good to come across a new play that would be fun to tackle."
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