Scenic design is both the most concrete and often (except for maybe sound design) the least analyzed aspect of a stage play. But veteran designer Tony Ferrieri's work on Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet struck me as exceptional.
The play's a coming-of-age story set in the Louisiana bayou. City's thrust stage is set up mostly as a series of narrow boardwalks, backed by two stylized "houses": façade doorways, one accompanied by a set of stairs that rises to a little platform that serves mostly as Marcus' bedroom.
Ferrieri is possibly Pittsburgh's busiest set designer, a frequent contributor at City, Quantum Theatre and elsewhere, and this set makes it easy to see why. Though it's made almost entirely of unpainted wooden boards, it speaks volumes about playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney's theatrical world.
It's a play where the title character's growth has a lot to do with hidden pasts in his family and small town. The boardwalk, accordingly, curves its way just over top of the onstage pool of water the script calls for – a shallow mini bayou the play uses to symbolize a dream world, the past, or both. Ferrieri's boardwalk evokes this in such a way that you feel that the characters are always on the cusp of breaking through or tumbling into it (a warm-weather version of thin ice, perhaps).
More clever still are the stylized trees that loom upstage. These are silhouettes, but they too are made of those same boards, arrayed in short horizontal sections. This suggests a oneness of the natural world with both fencing and clapboard housing, which well suits McCraney's highly theatrical conception of dream sequences, quasi-Shakespearean monologues and characters who sometimes say their stage directions aloud (i.e., "Enter Terrell").
And oh, yes, the play is quite good, too.
The show's final performances are this weekend, concluding with the Sun., Feb. 13, matinee (www.citytheatrecompany.org).