The Process on Recent Posters
Other Desert Cities
This play by Jon Robin Baitz, set in Palm Springs at the home of a politically connected Republican family, raises provocative questions about what artists owe to their own history and what do they owe to the people who share that history. Can we use our life stories to make literature and find catharsis if those stories hurt our families?
The daughter of the family, living on the east coast and estranged from her parents conservative point of view, returns to Palm Springs to show her parents the manuscript of her soon to be published memoir. In it she holds her mother and father responsible for abandoning her younger brother at the moment he is being hunted by the FBI for terrorism. It was a humiliating tragedy for the Republican couple that they have finally put behind them but the daughter’s book threatens to open it all up again.
To begin my exploration I tried out an idea that the figure of the daughter writing is surrounded by an image of an image of her parent’s Palm Springs house being blown apart by the revelations in the book.
In the second early sketch, the daughter and the parents face each other across the space illustrated with the fugitive brother’s ghostly head.
I showed these sketches to John Robert Baitz, who felt they didn’t’ adequately evoke the Palm Springs character – a kind of 1950’s modernism and symbol of the wealthy parents protected life.
I showed this sketch, which was mainly to introduce the metaphor of the daughter’s manuscript as a dangerous red object. The team at Lincoln Center Theater hated the grim figure in the sketch but agreed to let me proceed to photograph Elizabeth Marvel, the actress playing the daughter, and to try to come up with something less off-putting.
I was pleased with the crisp graphic quality of this sketch and felt that it succeeded in suggesting that the red manuscript was going to have a big effect on the people living in the house at the bottom of the poster.
Both Baitz and Joe Mantello, the director, felt that the sketch was totally off base in terms of the meaning of the play. I misinterpreted their objections to mean they felt the art was too “hard.” It led me to do two other pieces of art that were more romantic.
These sketches were not moving in an appropriate direction either, from Baitz’s point of view. He encouraged me to try to evoke more of the anger and the tension of the play, perhaps by using the moment when the daughter flips the manuscript in frustration.