a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.
There are really only two contenders here: War Horse and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.
So let’s start with the other two nominees, shall we.
A realistic design for a realistic play, Mimi Jordan’s competent lighting for Jerusalem slid into the race by necessity for a fourth nominee (try to think of another superlative lighting design for a play. Go ahead — I’ll wait). I confess that I only saw The Merchant of Venice in the park, which location inherently requires a very specific set of lighting needs, but many a youtube video exists of the Broadway incarnation — see here, for example. With a much smaller playing space, and without the warm glow of the setting sun, Kenneth Posner (The Coast of Utopia, Wicked) takes a cue from Mark Wendland’s stark set; employing darker hues, he creates a somber, brooding tone for the Bard’s so-called comedy. The busiest of our nominees, Posner designed four other shows this season, including the dismal Catch Me If You Can.
Super-interestingly, the top two nominees were each charged with creating atmospheres of war, as centered around a titular non-human character. David Lander (33 Variations, Cabaret) has already won the Drama Desk for his ability to swiftly shift moods from light to dark and create a nightmarish atmosphere in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Maintaining an unsettling eeriness throughout with his spectral, moody lighting, Lander provides a constant reminder that Baghdad is “lousy with ghosts,” as the titular jungle cat declares at the start of the play.
Where Lander’s lighting produces an unsettling loneliness, Paule Constable’s maintains a warm, haunting glow as it follows a boy and his horse as they desperately search for each other over years and continents during WWI. Like Lander, Constable (Coram Boy, The Weir) has won a Drama Desk for his lighting design — the entire War Horse creative team was honored with a special Drama Desk Award for “Thrilling Stagecraft,” demonstrating the show’s peerless overall design. Because the Tony committee has shown so little love for Bengal (no Best Play nomination here) and so much for War Horse, it’s unlikely voters will bestow this prize on the all-but-forgotten — though still running! — Iraq ghost story. At this point, it’s pretty much a given that War Horse will sweep the design categories — and deservedly so.