The play’s 1983 Broadway production met with modest success, largely thanks to Ming Cho Lee’s reportedly dazzling 55-foot-tall wall of simulated ice, which Frank Rich of The New York Times described as “a stage illusion that shoots past the clouds to arrive at the realm of pure sculpture.’’BTF’s Unicorn Theatre, housed in a former barn, lacks such head room. Still, Kenneth Grady Barker’s smallish tor is impressive at first sight, when a parachute curtain is ripped away to an unnerving cosmic rumble created by sound designer J Hagenbuckle. But it’s not often that you come upon a mountain face with built-in holds and a platform that juts out like a Murphy bed (and is a bit bouncy to boot).
Like Macdonald, I always find the decision to mount a revival of this play interesting. Without the dread of the impending annihilation by Nature, the play does read a little like subtext theater - clunky though not too melodramatic. The published play script includes a foreword, in which the author talks about the very different ways the play was staged in its first two productions:
"Since the Broadway production opened in March of 83, much attention has been focused on the awesome efforts of designer Ming Cho Lee, who who created a wall, well beyond my wildest dreams. In the Portsmouth and Syracuse productions, the designers had smaller spaces and smaller budgets, but were also able to create beautiful and imaginative sets. ... In Syracuse the set was totally abstract - made entirely of steel and fiberglass - a frozen, existential, no man's land."
The photo above is of the Berkshire production, which I haven't seen. It appears they have split the difference between the abstract and the realistic.
This ties in with the recent New York Times article about the challenges of staging horror in theaters:
Theater artists are divided over how to tackle onstage violence. Most writers simply reject rigid naturalism and strip their productions to bare essentials. “St. Nicholas” and “The Pumpkin Pie Show,” an annual collection of gothic tales by Clay McLeod Chapman, are built around spooky monologues and finely tuned dialogue on an empty stage. “The stories I heard around the campfire as a kid scared me most because they worked on the imagination,” Mr. Chapman said. “Theater should exploit what it does best. I want it to be intimate and spare. As soon as there is an effect, I am looking for the pulleys and the wires, and you lose me.”
The article notes that there is disagreement about this. For instance, playwright James Comtois points out “When you see someone cut onstage, there is just something shocking and jarring.”