At Fogg Museum
Three Harvard men--Robert Edmond Jones, Donald Oenslager, and Lee Simonson--are the artists, whose theatrical designs are now on exhibit in Fogg. While these designs prove that all three are excellent draftsmen, colorists, and masters of composition, their real work is not hanging in the galleries. They are scenic designers, and their finished creations are physical settings on a stage. Jones has said that a scene design is no more than an "intention." These artists' designs must be judged as "intentions," without consideration of such qualities of an actual setting as plasticity and compatibility with the play's flow of action.
Jones is the most important designer, not only of the three, but of the entire American theater. Influenced directly by Gordon Craig's "new stagecraft," and indirectly by Adolphe Appia's theories of light, Jones designed a production of "A Man Who Married a Dumb Wife" in 1915. Instead of using stained glass and gothic arches to indicate a medieval scene, Jones symbolized the spirit of the play with light frame construction and cheerful primary colors. Historical accuracy was unimportant; in its place Jones put his own, highly personal, response to the play.
Simonson has modified Jones' emphasis on the designer's personality, but has generally remained true to the concept of interpretive, selective realism. A superb example of this is his setting for the Theatre Guild's "Liliom" in 1921. He filled the stage with patterns of light, form, and color, yet the treatment remained realistic.
Oenslager's drawings have a poster-like quality that is ideal for explicit, colorful comedy designs. It is sometimes inadequate in treating big dramas which rely heavily on mood and atmosphere. In designing for such dramas Jones excels. He uses a delicate pen-and-ink and wash technique to record mood and atmosphere, rather than providing scale drawings for the scene painter. Many of Jones' drawings have no more color than a subtly graded grey wash and one or two small areas of blood red. His designs for the Lionel Barrymore "Macbeth" of 1921 and the John Barrymore "Hamlet" of 1920 are masterpieces of expression, and at the same time, of dramatic force. Jones' costume sketch for John Barrymore as Gloucester is a revelation of character in every line, every color and texture contrast.
The exhibition at Fogg has been set up with great care, imagination, and a deliberate striving for dramatic effect. Recordings of Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex" are played in the gallery, and the lighting is more impressively intelligent than at most exhibitions.