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Huntington’s Latest Looks at Choices That Shape Lives

Choice travels through time and space, with help from Home Depot

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In Choice, the first straight play by Wicked author Winnie Holzman, the action jumps from location to location and between past and present as journalist Zipporah Zunder explores her relationships with her husband, her daughter, and her best friend, among others. At the heart of those explorations is a woman’s right to choose. 

The Huntington Theatre Company’s current production, playing at the Calderwood Pavilion’s Wimberly Theatre through November 15, is the world premiere of Choice. Besides Wicked, Holzman also penned TV’s Emmy-nominated My So-Called Life. Directed by Sheryl Kaller (Next Fall on Broadway), with Johanna Day playing Zipporah (or Zippy), Munson Hicks her husband, Madeline Wise her daughter, and Connie Ray her best friend, the play follows Zippy as her latest story transforms her understanding of her own life.

“With this play, Winnie asks all of us to explore how our choices shape our lives and help define who we are,” says Huntington artistic director Peter DuBois.

Making the play’s many transitions work is the job of scenic designer James Noone, a CFA assistant professor of theater, who heads the School of Theatre scenic design program, and lighting designer Rui Rita (CFA’90). Noone and Rita have each designed several Huntington productions, but separately, crossing paths instead on 15 or 20 shows at places like the Williamstown Theatre Festival. “We basically read each other’s mind,” says Rita.

Before transitions begin, Noone says, the audience has to be grounded in the set, in this case an upscale suburban kitchen built from scratch with products from the Home Depot. “The important thing is that it feels like everyday life for us,” says Noone, who lists Broadway’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill among his credits. “I felt like it needed to be realistic because of what happens. The design had to not be strange—it had to be what we all know and experience.”

Noone’s solution to the transitions is Rita’s favorite part, as the kitchen set contains components of the other locations. “I love the way his set breaks apart,” Rita says. “Because we go to several different locations, it’s like this little magic box, where walls slide out or move away or turn around.”

The moments when “part of one set is on stage and part of another set is also still onstage,” he says, “allow what we’re doing with the lighting to be more focused in one place and feathered off toward the edges in the same way.”

Lighting does its part too, at times turning on a dime to signal a new scene or changing so slowly that the audience is not consciously aware of it. Rita says that there are moments audience members may think are real, then realize gradually that they are happening only in Zippy’s head.

“We transition the lighting enough for the audience to understand that something has changed in this world, and we’re not where we were,” he says.

Rita is a visual artist who works first from the words, allowing the script rather than technical challenges to drive his work. “I want to make sure each actor is lit in a way that propels the story, rather than that each actor is lit by the exact same number of foot-candles,” he says.

In Choice, “there are many questions posed and there are mystical elements and spiritual elements.” By going beyond pure realism, says Rita, the play offers opportunities that most designers would welcome.

Another Huntington veteran, Mariann S. Verheyen, a CFA associate professor of theater and head of the School of Theatre costume program, is the show’s costume designer.

The Huntington Theatre Company production of Choice is playing at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion’s Wimberly Theatre, 527 Tremont St., Boston, through November 15. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the Calderwood Pavilion box office or the BU Theatre box office, 264 Huntington Ave. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $30 tickets (ID required) for any production, and there is a $5 discount for seniors. Military personnel can purchase tickets for $20 with promo code MILITARY, and student rush tickets are available for $20. Members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Call 617-266-0800 for more information. Seating at many performances of Choice is limited, but seats are released every day for sale and you can call to be added to the wait list. Follow the Huntington Theatre Company on Twitter at @huntington.

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Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

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