Intimate Yet Foreign: An Interview with Hamlet Scenic and Costume Designer David Israel Reynoso

By Elspeth Sweatman and Simon Hodgson

The Elsinore of A.C.T.’s Hamlet is a world swirling with rumor and falsehood. It’s filled with kings and courtiers who say one thing and do another. Scenic and Costume Designer David Israel Reynoso wanted the play’s set to reflect this duplicity. His vision incorporates majestic elements—towering walls and ramparts—but hints at the corruption embedded in Shakespeare’s text with heavy, abattoir-style sheeting through which we see images we can’t quite decipher. Is that Polonius we see hiding? Is it Claudius? “The space has a lot of partitions, nooks and crannies where people can spy on each other,” says Reynoso. “This idea that you don’t know where you are in relationship to anything and anyone is at the core of this play’s world.” We sat down with Reynoso to unravel some of the set’s secrets.

Set rendering by David Israel Reynoso for A.C.T.'s 2017 production of Hamlet.
This production of Hamlet is set in a world that is polluted, but the inhabitants of this world don’t seem to know it. What was your inspiration for this?

I was on a plane looking through one of the magazines in the seat back and came across a screen shot of a film called Red Desert, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. This image was of a woman in an early 1960s green coat, holding the hand of a little boy in a mustard coat. The landscape is very gritty. She’s standing on what look to be train tracks, but dirt has overtaken some of the tracks. Behind her is an enormous plume from a factory. The film became an incredible resource in terms of a landscape that has this perpetual pollution, these great plumes of poisonous smoke emanating.

How do you translate these images and ideas into a set?

Carey and I wanted to create a space that we felt we knew intimately and yet also felt completely foreign. We got this feeling when we looked at industrial landscapes, so we created a set that could be the inside of a factory or a warehouse, but isn’t so tied to one thing that it couldn’t be anything else. It needed to be a space like a fortress—where someone could wield a weapon—or a royal court, where someone could throw a fabulous party. We’re never able to peg what the space is.
Set rendering by David Israel Reynoso for A.C.T.'s 2017 production of Hamlet.
How does this setting relate to the costumes?

The only reason we are going this far in terms of structure in the space is because we have the counterbalance in what we are doing with the clothing. We want the clothing to feel grounded in a sense of reality. People are wearing clothes that we recognize. These are buttoned-up, well dressed, semi-sophisticated men and women—in juxtaposition to this space. You don’t know why these people allow themselves to reside in this polluted space when they’re trying to hold court. There’s something about having something soft and glamorous in a space like this. That tension is definitely implied.

Hamlet runs through October 15 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. To read more of our interview with David Israel Reynoso, order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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