2018-2019 Season

Interview with Arnulfo Maldonado

Posted on: November 20th, 2018 by Ted Sod


Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Set Designer Arnulfo Maldonado about his work on Usual Girls.

Set Model for Usual Girls. Credit: Arnfulo Maldonado.

Ted Sod: How did you respond to Usual Girls when you first read it?
Arnulfo Maldonado: I was very much struck by its directness. This play has zero fluff, so it was important for me to also approach the design with that same directness. This is a play that sees a woman’s (in this case, Kyeoung’s) journey/transformation from a very early age through young adulthood. What are the events in our young lives that shape us to be who we are as adults, especially for a young woman of color?

TS: Does the play have personal resonance for you?
AM: It’s personal in that I think we all grapple with our own identity and our own place in the world; I certainly believe that my own personal journey through the murky waters of adolescence, coming to grips with my own sexuality, understanding what it meant to be a minority—those are parts of me that were very much shaped by the people in my life, in school, the social groups I was attracted to, the social groups I avoided. It’s equal parts exciting for me because this is the third play this season in which I am creating a world for an almost exclusively female ensemble—School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh at MCC, and Dance Nation by Clare Barron at Playwrights Horizons —being the others.

TS: What kind of research did you have to do in order to design the set?
AM: The rawness of the play reminded me of Nan Goldin photographs, her unapologetic documentation of intimacy. That led to discovering other photographers whose work focuses on capturing teenage/young adult intimacy, like Justine Kurland and David Stewart and Olivia Bee, who documented her own adolescence in a book entitled Kids In Love. Bee’s use of color felt slightly surreal and right for the tone of the play. That led to looking at more sculptural-based work, like that of Alex De Corte’s. And, of course, looking at photographs of grade schools, middle schools, high schools…the architecture and makeup of these spaces. The geography of these types of institutions includes very vulnerable/open spaces, like a parking lot (where one waits for a ride after school, for instance). It was important to retain that openness in the design because that waiting time/space wants to feel slightly scary. There’s nowhere for you to hide, nowhere for you to retreat to.

Set Model for Usual Girls. Credit: Arnulfo Maldonado.

TS: How are you collaborating with the director, Tyne Rafaeli? Please give us a window into your process as a set designer.
AM: This is my third collaboration with Tyne and what’s great about a recurring relationship is that you pick up on what helps each of you connect with the piece. Tyne shared with me a visual that felt right in terms of the vulnerability of the space, but also possesses a slight eeriness and seduction to it, that ultimately led me to make the connection between the work of photographers like Olivia Bee and visual artists like Alex De Corte. That was the key image that opened up the possibilities of the space.

TS: What were the challenges in designing the set for this show?
AM: This is my third show in the Underground space. I also designed Kingdom Come by Jenny Rachel Weiner and last season’s Bobbie Clearly by Alex Lubischer, so I have become well acquainted with the challenges of the space. With a play like Usual Girls, which also takes place in multiple locations, it was important to strip the design to the bare essentials and at the same time retain some of the eeriness and excitement of the visuals. The floor felt especially important: we thought to use a similar rubber flooring found on playgrounds because we first see these women on a playground at a very early age. playing a game involving not falling into molten lava. Similar games are played, more emotional ones, as they get older, but the floor remains constant—this felt especially right. As you’ll see, There is one wall that transforms subtly to allow the room to feel slightly more expansive at times—sometimes it becomes a reflective space and at other times it becomes a retreat/protective space. Kyeoung can sometimes feel in control of this space, sometimes lost. This ever-shifting wall feels important in terms of connecting it with how the world itself shifts around her, and at times it can be pleasant, and at others you’re staring at yourself in a mirror and it can be quite painful.

Usual Girls is playing at the Black Box Theatre through December 9, 2018. Best availability on Sunday nights. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2018-2019 Season, Usual Girls

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Coming of Age on Stage

Posted on: November 15th, 2018 by Clare McCormick


Leaving childhood can be treacherous. Filled with change and uncertainty, adolescence swiftly and ungracefully delivers us to new and frightening terrain. While this journey is unique to everyone, experiences like heartache, joy, and sorrow repeat themselves throughout our lives and, for many writers, onto the page, as they try their best to make sense of them. Playwrights have always artistically grappled with growing up, and Ming Peiffer’s Usual Girls is no exception: below is a selection of plays that also try to navigate the no-man’s-land of coming of age.

Frank Wedekind’s play, groundbreaking in its approach to adolescence, follows a group of teenagers and examines how well-meaning adults in their lives fail them, triggering unprepared consequences. Moritz dies by suicide after receiving bad marks; Wendla becomes pregnant and then dies during her mother’s attempt to provide her an abortion; and Melchior, sent to a reformatory after being expelled, struggles to reckon with with the loss of his childhood.

John Kerr as Tom with Deborah Kerr (no relation) as the housemaster's wife in the film of Tea and Sympathy, 1956, directed by Vincente Minnelli. Photograph: Everett/Rex

Robert Anderson’s play presents Tom Lee, a sensitive boy who is at odds with his brash, masculine classmates. The bullying intensifies when the other boys, perturbed by Tom’s effeminate nature and possible homosexuality, try to force him into “manliness.” Laura Reynolds, the wife of one of Tom’s teachers, observes this with alarm and decides to intervene, offering herself up as a potential object for Tom’s desire. The play’s final line, spoken by Laura, remains iconic: “Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind.”

Paula Vogel’s Obie award-winning play serves as a crinkled, cryptic roadmap to an interrupted girlhood. Feeling like the family’s misfit, Li’l Bit turns to her dashing Uncle Peck for guidance and companionship. The two bond over driving lessons, and Peck teaches Li’l Bit everything he knows. However, Peck’s attentions soon turn predatory, and when grown-up Li’l Bit reflects on this conflicting relationship, her memories prompt us to think about sexuality, identity, and how secrets build when buried in the body.

In the last play of his Brother/Sister trilogy, Tarell Alvin McCraney tells the story of 16-year-old Marcus Eshu, living in the fictional town of San Pere, Louisiana. In a world infused with Yoruba mythology, set in “the distant present,” Marcus begins to experiment with being “sweet”— a historically black Southern slang word for “gay.” Missing his father and feeling at odds with his surroundings, Marcus fumbles for love and a place to call his own in the days directly preceding Hurricane Katrina.

Teagan Rose and Connor Kelly-Eiding, in Echo Theater Company’s 2017 production of Dry Land. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

DRY LAND (2015)
Ruby Rae Spiegel’s brutal and intimate glimpse into teenage girlhood takes us to a high school locker room in present-day Florida, where we meet 16-year-old, pregnant Amy and lonely transfer-student Ester, united by swim-team membership. As the girls strategize about home-abortion tactics, they talk about typical teen things, too: feeling isolated, the way kisses taste, what college life might hold.

Usual Girls is playing at the Black Box Theatre through December 9, 2018. Best availability on Sunday nights. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Usual Girls

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Art History in Apologia

Posted on: November 14th, 2018 by Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz


Art historian Kellie Jones believes that “objects are our greatest evidence of history.” She says, “In the presence of objects, I see the narration of people’s lives, and cultures, and histories. I think art, art history, and culture narrate who we are as people on this planet.” Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Art historians articulate the relationship between an art object and the historical and cultural context in which it was created. In doing so, they can help shape how contemporary viewers experience an object. Often, the biographical details of an artist also become the subject of an art historian’s work. Debate continues as to whether a viewer should or even can separate the artist from the art.

Someone with an art history degree might be employed as a professor, museum curator, art buyer, antiques dealer, appraiser for an auction house, or consultant for an art collector. What unites all of these professions is the desire and ability to research and discuss works of art. Art historians are concerned with who made a work, when and where it was made, and why it is significant.


In patriarchal societies, male voices are generally held up as expert opinions, while female voices are considered less than -- if they are even considered at all. Art history, like many subjects, has long been dominated by the male point of view. It is now clear, however, that art history, like all history, benefits from a variety of perspectives.

In Apologia, the character of Kristin is a revolutionary. Her work as an art historian, and the personal sacrifices made in service of her professional efforts, helped shift the gender balance in the field. Many real-life women, like Linda Nochlin, Hayden Hererra, Kellie Jones, and Julia Bryan-Wilson, have similarly shifted the public’s perception of the artistic landscape. Through their work they have asked us to reexamine the canon, recenter artists who had been overlooked, and reshape our contemporary understanding of art and artists.


The complex history of British colonization and outright theft of objects from Africa make the mask in Apologia much more complicated than a simple gift. That Trudi, an American, is naive or willfully ignorant to this history while Kristin, a renowned art historian, is most certainly not, makes the moment even more fraught. Whatever the reason, Kristin’s initial reaction to the mask invites the audience to consider how they might react when presented with an artifact of dubious provenance and from a culture other than their own.

With heads raised and furrowed brows, these apostles shield their eyes from the bright glow of the angels and the golden halo around Jesus as they watch him ascend. Giotto’s paintings show people behaving as real people would. This is why many associate him with Humanism. Credit: Web Gallery of Art


In Apologia, Kristin is a scholar of Giotto di Bondone. Of him she says, “He was a revolutionary. He took religious iconography and completely transformed it.” Giotto lived in Italy in the 14th century. He has come to be known as one of the most important painters of his time. His nuanced style broke with the traditional art of the Byzantine-Gothic period. No longer were the people in paintings depicted as flat and expressionless. Giotto painted Jesus not as an icon, but as a man capable of feeling emotion. When Jesus offers to wash his disciples’ feet, they display a range of emotion -- confusion, trepidation, shame, enthusiasm. All of Giotto’s figures, even those at the bottom of the hierarchy, were painted with realistic details to show their full humanity. This shift helped usher in what is known as the Renaissance, a period in which artists moved away from religious dogma, rediscovered classical art, and focused their work on the dignity and worth of the individual.


Renaissance Humanism is the name given to the prevailing philosophy from the early 1400s through mid 1600s. At this point in history, Europeans were moving from a belief in medieval supernaturalism to the modern scientific process. Scholars were returning to ideas initiated in Ancient Greece and Rome. They valued public dialogue and critical thinking. In art and literature, more emphasis was placed on aesthetics. Artists revealed and celebrated human emotion and individual experience.

Humanism is still a popular philosophy today. According to the American Humanist Association, “Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.”

Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia

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