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By LINDA BUCHWALD
When you see Bronx Bombers the new play about the Yankees that's currently on Broadway at Circle in the Square, pay attention to the ceiling in the first scene. Eventually, it floats down from the sky---along with a bed and the actress playing Carmen Berra, Yogi Berra's wife---transforming a hotel room into a boudoir at Yogi's house. It's the kind of theatrical magic that suggests Eric Simonson's play is looking for the poetry in one of baseball's greatest teams, and it's the kind of transition that wasn't possible last year, when the play premiered Off Broadway.
Wherever it's playing, the show demands an imaginative staging, not least because all four scenes are set in different places. The hotel room section, which charts a conflict between player Reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin, gives way to the scene in the Berra's bedroom. After that, there's a fantasy sequence in a dining room in which Yankees past and present come together for dinner, and finally, the action moves to the Yankees' locker room in 2008.
"There are bunch of big things that you need to tell the location of each place," says set designer Beowulf Boritt. "A challenge was always, 'How do those things come and go, and look good once they get there?'"
Off Broadway, that challenge was met by having the crew and the cast walk set pieces on and off the stage. The banquet table, for instance, was assembled from four segments that could be wheeled around individually, and the bed came out in two parts.
It worked, but it wasn't ideal.
"When you see so much effort being put into a scene change, the audience immediately invests in that effort," says Simonson, who is also directing. "And you want them to invest in the show, not the scene change. When you have an effortless, magical scene change like the bed that descends from the heavens, it not only relinquishes the audience from expending that energy into a scene change, it's also a lot of fun to watch those scene changes happen."
Boritt's budget was more than 10 times larger on Broadway, and it partly went to installing three elevators and other machinery that can seamlessly move the furniture. The money also let him design the dream sequence the way he had originally envisioned it.
"I always had the idea of wanting everything to be blue: I thought, 'It's a dream about Yankee heaven or a Yankee fantasyland, and we should make it all blue,'" he says. Off-Broadway, where the play had a successful run in a Primary Stages production, the tablecloth was blue, but because the chandelier and chairs were borrowed from other theatre companies, they couldn't be altered to match. On Broadway, Boritt bought and painted chairs himself, and he built a chandelier from scratch, then decorated it with a lot of little baseballs. "The drinks cart on Broadway is a bar cart, but all of the pedestals on it are made of baseballs stacked up on each other," he adds. "It's fun little details like that that I got to play with in the Broadway version."
However, at least on major design element was carried over from the last production: Once again, the show features a frieze that once decorated the upper deck of Yankee stadium. As Boritt says, "It serves as a nice visual element to tie it all together and put us in Yankeeland all the time."
Linda Buchwald tweets about theatre as @PataphysicalSc
Photo provided by Beowulf Boritt