From the moment the audience enters TimeLine Theatre to see Jiréh Breon Holder’s Too Heavy For Your Pocket, they are in two worlds at once. They walk softly over grass that slopes up a small hill and right into a kitchen. Throughout the play, each character must balance carefully between the struggles of their everyday life and the world at large, between their internal fears and those of their family, until we can’t tell where one ends and another begins. Set designer José Manuel Díaz-Soto embraced this melting of worlds to transform TimeLine’s space into something totally unique.
BTD: How did you come to this set design? What excites you about it?
Díaz-Soto: The only description the playwright gives for the set is “grass everywhere, even indoors.” I found this to be a strong place to begin, but it wasn’t enough. [Director] Ron OJ Parson encouraged his designers to explore the spirituality of this play, which connected everything for me. This set has two layers: the one we see, and the one the characters see. The characters see The House: a simple, realism-style kitchen. The audience sees the spirit of this house and the emotional history within it. For our characters, The House is ordinary, but the audience sees the outside quietly taking over. The grass freely claims its space and grows without boundaries. Freedom is the main subject of this play, and freedom is growing under the character’s feet.
BTD: Why was this the right show for you? What challenged you about this set design?
Díaz-Soto: Too Heavy for Your Pocket is one of those plays you read and you want to design. The set is powerful and surreal, and the central themes speak directly to me as an artist. The big challenge for me was how to create two different environments that blend together without either stealing focus. We wanted the actors to be in control of setting and breaking the boundaries of this world, so that moving between them would always feel organic. Another challenge was how to communicate that this deconstructed house with greenery inside is not an abandoned one. To counter this, we dressed the set with hyperrealistic elements. The furniture and appliances are in good condition, and there are decorative elements and appropriate 1960’s products on the shelves. We can see that there is a woman taking care of this home.
BTD: There were so many interesting moments of house and its yard bleeding together, of reality blending into something dream-like. How did you work with [lighting designer] Maggie Fullilove-Nugent and her design for these moments?
Díaz-Soto: I am a firm believer that theatre design is a collaborative matter. I always try to find options for other designers to play within my designs. Considering Maggie’s vision for this script added another layer for me to explore. The gaps between the wooden planks, the deconstruction of the set, and the open netting as a representation of leaves were all concepts that we discovered together.
Too Heavy For Your Pocket by Jiréh Breon Holder, directed by Ron OJ Parson. TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 West Wellington Ave, (773) 281-8463, timelinetheatre.com, $40. Through June 29th.