Right in Front of Your Eyes: The Subtlety of Her Portmanteau

By Annie Sears

Obie Award–winning designer David Israel Reynoso has done a bit of everything: costume design and scenic design, regional theaters and dance companies, shows for stages and immersive experiences for museums. Last season, he brought his expansive toolkit to The Geary, designing costumes and set for Hamlet. This year, he returns to A.C.T. as scenic designer for Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau at The Strand. We sat down with Reynoso to hear more about infusing this thoughtful, intimate drama with subtle psychological cues.
David Israel Reynoso's scenic model for A.C.T.'s production of Her Portmanteau.

Which aspect of the Her Portmanteau design was your favorite to conceptualize?
The entire stage is framed by a beautiful fretwork, a filigree design that’s inspired by a hotel in Lagos, Nigeria. I was struck by its basket-like, woven quality. Yet it felt very contemporary, industrial, and New York–like as well. There’s a duality there, looking through the lens of both cultures. I thought we could capture that by bringing in something that frames every location and provides a bit of texture.

We’ve also captured that duality through color. I was drawn to purples and deep teals—colors that have a depth and complexity to them, that can be both moody and cheerful. Psychologically, that makes us feel that there’s a lot to unpack. It’s an incredibly nuanced, delicate, and intimate story. It’s important that the set never get in the way of that, but enhance it by providing a sense of quiet when we need it to be quiet, or a level of chaos when we need that.

You designed for The Geary last season, and now you’ve designed for The Strand. How do you approach each space differently?
Scale is certainly a major factor. The Geary has a proscenium of a large size and scope. The viewing distance from the mezzanine and the balcony—that’s quite different from the vantage point of an audience member in The Strand. There’s also an exciting intimacy to The Strand, which I have embraced on a rather dramatic level. In the first scene, we see Iniabasi alone at a phone booth outside JFK airport. She’s just arrived, and she’s feeling isolated and lost. The transition from that space to the interior of an apartment is interesting. It captures some of the psychology of what it’s like to enter a new country in which you are trying to get your bearings. The set slides in, and actually goes beyond the proscenium line—very close to the audience, so you feel like you’re in the room. That’s been a really fun aspect of designing in The Strand that I wouldn’t get to do at The Geary. I love to find the quirks of each space, embrace them, and incorporate them into my designs.

Iniabasi (Eunice Woods) uses a payphone outside JFK Airport at the beginning of Her Portmanteau. Photo by Kevin Berne.

See it for yourself. Her Portmanteau must close on March 31, so get your tickets today!

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