Lucky Thirteen

by Esther Emery

My husband and I are designing a set this weekend.  Or, rather, he’s designing.  I’m directing.  It’s the thirteenth time we’ve done this (according to my resume), and in genuine humility I can say we’ve got our process nailed.  Here’s how it goes. 

First, the argument. Not over the scenic design, but over something totally inconsequential, like lunch, or completely massive and dramatic, like the future of our marriage. It clears the air.

Secondly, I start talking about how we should talk about things. I might say, “I don’t want us to rush into logistics. Let’s give ourselves some time with the way it feels.” This is contentless, like chewing gum, or running in place. But it gets us going. Sometimes this phase is very quick. Other times it lasts for days.

At some point, usually when I feel it is least expected, I gather my confidence and say, “Can I start talking about the play?” In this case it was in the middle of lunch at The Mission, which was the subject of the argument in article “A.”

Nick says, “Yeah,” in a way that means, “Any day now, lady,” except with more affection. 

I gather my confidence (did I say that already?) and blurt out my best one or two sentence statement encapsulating the world of the play. Anne Bogart has written that a choice is an act of violence, because it eliminates the other choices.  My opening statement may or may not actually affect every single choice that follows. But it is the beginning, and at least in temporal space, it is the point from which the next two months of work will emanate.

So…I try to sound smart.

“It’s a world that has magic in it, all the time, but you can’t always see the magic. The world changes as our perspective changes. The characters discover or rediscover the magic that has always been there, hidden, in their lives and in their hearts.”


“Yeah, and I want to be able to use the center third of the stage for all three locations.”

I don’t feel very smart. But it doesn’t last. Once we’re started, the conversation tends to flow:

“I want it to be rich and complex, like jazz…”


“Yeah, maybe paisley.”

“…and then it transforms into a love song, and surprises us.”

“Something familiar?”

“Not necessarily familiar, but simple, and elegant, and romantic.”

It’s only right this minute that I notice that Nick and I have used those adjectives before, for the second show in MOXIE’s Season 2, called Limonade Tous les Jours. We loved that show. Here are Jo Anne Glover and DW Jacobs in a picture that doesn’t show you much of the set. But it sure is pretty.


We go to the park and watch Milo play with sticks and dirt underneath a huge tree. I don’t feel on the spot at all anymore. Nick starts the conversation again and takes me by surprise.

“What does the play feel like?”

“Rich. Complex. Passionate. Urban. Violent.”

“Um…” (ed’s note, it’s totally a comedy…) “In what way is it violent?”

“Molly is scary. She’s turbulent. She turns everything upside down.”

“So it’s harsh.”

“No, not harsh. Okay, maybe harsh, but not spare.” Pause. “Maybe spare, but not empty. It’s rich and full.”


“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s it. That’s the right word. I see Beane’s problem a lot like some artists. He is too sensitive, he feels the world too much, and so he has retreated from it.  His world is made of contrasts between dead grays and brilliant, bright, painfully saturate colors.”

One or the other of us jumps up to draw Milo out of way of three school-age girls playing with a ball nearby. Milo has been waving “hello” to them and obviously thinks he should be invited to join the game.

With the appropriate caveat, Nick moves on to logistics. I’m secretly thrilled, because he’s a technical genius, and it totally turns me on.

“I know we don’t want to get bogged down in this, but do you think the walls actually move?”

In my smallest voice, “Um…yes?” The small voice is a cover, and both of us know it.  I’ve never asked him for a scenic device he didn’t deliver.



“Yeah, that’ll be fun.”