Broadway By Design: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

Prayer for the French Republic concluded its run at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on March 3, 2024.

By: Apr. 21, 2024
Broadway By Design: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC
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In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld is shining a spotlight on the stellar designs of this Broadway season, show by show. Today, we continue with the creatives from one of the most acclaimed new plays of the year, Prayer for the French Republic- Scenic Designer Takeshi Kata, and Lighting Designer Amith Chandrashaker.


In 1944, a Jewish couple in Paris desperately awaits news of their missing family. More than 70 years later, the couple’s great-grandchildren find themselves facing the same question as their ancestors: "Are we safe?" 

Where exactly did the design process begin? Scenic designer Takeshi Kata first turned to director David Comer. "David and I discussed how the piece moves from present to past/past to present and how the two time periods interact with each other," he explained. "We were also interested in exploring the idea of a family rooted in a particular culture, all of a sudden having to have to doubt/question their sense of belonging there. What does that kind of unmoored-ness, disorientation feel like? We looked at images of contemporary French apartments that felt right for the Benhamou family, as well as the Solomon’s in the 1940’s, then worked to find a way to move the elements so that the space could shift in a manner that the footprint of the apartment would change and shift throughout the play.

"We chose a chevron parquet floor to ground the space and pieced together interior and exterior walls around it. In order to add to the destabilizing sense of their world, we’ve angled the back wall as well as the portals defining the space, and set the main performance area on a turntable that was slightly off center in the space. We were interested in creating a juxtaposition through lighting (tall French windows where the light can poor into the whole space for the 2010s, and a closed in darker more hidden feel for the past), and in order to accentuate the gesture, on the SR side I’ve designed 2 sections of tall windows where the light could pour in from (also making that the taller side of the stage)."

Broadway By Design: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

Lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker drew from his past. "I kept thinking of my first trip to Paris when I was 20 years old," he explained. "The hotel room was five floors high and had large French windows that allowed for light to pour into our cream-colored room. I kept thinking about the clarity and elegance of that natural light. There was a crisp and pure quality that defined Paris to me. I wanted to bring that to Prayer. I wanted the light to touch all the architecture just right, like a still life. These elements became the base for the Benhamous family in 2016.

"The Salomon’s inhabit a different Paris, a post war Paris stretching itself after a long period of sleep. We wanted to show that journey from the small world Adolph and Irma lived in during the war to the brighter airier world when their son and grandson return home. Culminating in their stroll across Paris to visit the family piano store."

Broadway By Design: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

Broadway By Design: PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

Where did the team find their biggest design challenges? "The play moves fluidly between each family and their distinct time period. They inhabit one space that reveals itself through the motion of a turntable. Timing the shifts and revealing the characters as they dovetail in and out of time periods was integral in the design and was tricky to get perfect. In the end, the effort to make the timing of the shifts just-right was worth it," added  Amith. "An example of this occurs in the penultimate scene, the surprise reveal of Pierre. As Irma whispers her grandson's name on her deathbed in the late 1940s, we reveal him in 2016 as an old man.

"To simplify this answer... maybe we were inspired by the ideas of destabilizing movement and fragmentation of space."

Takeshi struggled more with creating through COVID. "During our off-Broadway process, we were hit with the Omicron wave. Trying to tech a show with a turntable and figuring out the movement, while dealing with the effects of COVID was quite challenging," he explained. "Compared to that, the rethinking the design for Broadway seemed pleasant. If anything, adjusting an intimate experience to a larger space may have been the most challenging aspect of this process."


Prayer for the French Republic concluded its run at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on March 3, 2024.


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