Designer Scott Pask Embraces the Abstract to Conjure the Threat and Beauty of Liaisons

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04 Jun 2008

Scott Pask
Scott Pask
Aubrey Reuben

Scott Pask, already a Tony Award winner for his scenic design of the plays The Coast of Utopia-Voyage and The Pillowman, said that he may be happiest when he's creating uncluttered "abstracted places," like the world of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, for which he is 2008 Tony-nominated for Best Scenic Design of a Play.

The Christopher Hampton drama concerns vain French aristocrats indulging in games of sexual and personal power in the 1780s, not long before the French Revolution. Pask's design at the American Airlines Theatre, where the Roundabout Theatre Company production continues, offers a mirrored floor, acres of billowing curtains that suggest rumpled bedding, a candle-studded crystal chandelier and, perhaps most important, upstage walls of opaque, glassy French doors.

"I do love abstracted places, especially one where I can fill it with so much texture," Pask told Playbill.com.

Within the space, a piece of furniture and a lighting change can create an entire room. Another designer under another director might have built literal, realistic, highly ornamented walls for the palatial French residences of the play.

Windows and reflective surfaces are important to this revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the designer said.



"A lot of the play is about reflection and the vanity of the upper class at that period of time, with the aristocracy being so overwhelmingly beglittered and trussed up," Pask said. "Meanwhile, the servant class has nothing."

The windowed upstage walls have "multiple uses," he said. They are passageways through which servants dash to do a task, they are mirrors in which characters can preen, they are portals through which both master and servant spy, listen and lie in wait.

As the servant class will eventually topple the aristocracy, "we wanted to make it very clear that [the servants] are paying attention to the machinations and the games," Pask said.

He admitted, "Playing with modern materials is where my heart is happiest. The floor is black and highly reflective."

But isn't a mirrored floor a lighting designer's nightmare?

"It's a lighting designer's nightmare, but it can be a lighting designer's dream because [the bounced lighting] picks these characters out; they look like they're floating around," Pask explained. "Since the whole set is black, those reflections aren't anything but an asset to us."

Laura Linney, Ben Daniels and Jessica Collins in Liaisons.
photo by Joan Marcus
The reflection challenge didn't prevent lighting designer Donald Holder from being recognized in the 2008 Tonys: He's up for Best Lighting of a Play for Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Because the surfaces were so reflective — and there was a complicated rig in the air, with a "blob" of fabric in the middle — Holder's lighting was "at off angles; he was tucking in lights everywhere, but I think it ended up being an amazing challenge that he was up for, and he did amazing work because of it," Pask said.

And what of that "blob" of dense fabric that hangs into scenes?

"I just wanted this really decadent look to it," Pask said. "I had been at the Venetian Bedroom at the Met[ropolitan Museum of Art] and was inspired by the feel of that, even though it's a different period of time. The idea of hanging something sumptuous and completely decadent like that — it became an architectural feature that showed a sort of grandeur."

Again, the fabric has multiple uses. "It becomes a threat and a plaything," he observed. "And it does divide the space. It becomes a screen which Ben [Daniels, a 2008 Tony nominee for Best Actor in a Play] hides behind, but then later on it becomes the forest in which they're dueling. And then by the end all the ropes and pulls holding the drapes up become this kind of cobweb that Laura [Linney] is caught in."

Also in the 2007-08 Broadway season, Pask created a less abstract White House Oval Office for the Broadway comedy November. Pask is not afraid of realism, but he's quick to point out, "even that was exaggerated."

Next up for Pask, this fall, is creating the world of Chicago nightclubbers in the Broadway revival of the musical Pal Joey, for the Roundabout.