Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Culture

Patrizia von Brandenstein’s Designs On David Mamet

For Academy Award-winning designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, the process of designing “The Anarchist” began with a series of exchanges with the drama’s author David Mamet. A visual consultant on the Mamet-scripted film “The Untouchables,” von Brandenstein more recently designed a not-yet-aired HBO biopic about Phil Spector that Mamet wrote and directed.

“Mamet and I got along famously. I’ve always admired his ability both to abstract ideas and to physicalize abstract thought,” von Brandenstein told me when I met her in November in her Chelsea apartment a week before “The Anarchist” opened. She shares the apartment with her husband, designer Stuart Wurtzel (“Hester Street,” “Hannah and Her Sisters”).

At the beginning of their collaboration on “The Anarchist,” which starred Patti LuPone as an imprisoned terrorist and Debra Winger as a sort of warden, Mamet encouraged von Brandenstein to contemplate the concept of prison. “He told me that there are all kinds of prisons,” she said. “He said, ‘Solzhenitsyn writes about some and Hemingway writes about some and I write about some, but there are many different kinds and people often make them for themselves. Sometimes, long before they go to prison, they are in a prison of their own creation.’”

She began by researching old office furniture. “I would mail him my sketches and he would say ‘nope, nope, nope, think again,’” she said. “Sometimes, he would send me a book which had nothing to do with the subject of his play, at least not apparently. We talked a lot about the works of Dawn Powell.”

Occasionally, von Brandenstein and Mamet discussed politics — she calls herself an “old lefty” and Mamet a “Goldwater Republican,” but says these differences didn’t affect their working relationship. “I’ve worked with big-time crazies, I don’t care what their politics are,” she said. “Mamet’s very intellectual and he has found comfort in faith. As a secular Jew, I don’t really understand that in the modern world, but I can applaud people with that kind of commitment.”

As von Brandenstein continued working on “The Anarchist,” her designs became more abstract. “I found myself losing more and more of what was real,” she said. “Finally, I thought of a huge wall — nothing so common as brick or cinder block — a wall that was both concrete and abstract. Ultimately, we ended up with a wall of file cabinets across the back of the stage.”

As far as colors were concerned, Mamet gave von Brandenstein a book of airplane colors, suggesting she study World War II planes. She sketched orange file cabinets, a red floor, a golden yellow ceiling, and turquoise chairs. But ultimately, Mamet decided the colors were too vibrant and would detract from the play — an apt metaphor, perhaps, for the Broadway production itself, which suggested an artwork from which all color had been leeched.

“Everything became gray and brown. All that was left was the turquoise chairs,” von Brandenstein said. “It killed me to give up that red floor. But the more I think about it, the more I think Mamet was right. His characters are both imprisoned in a way, and that’s expressed very well by the lack of color.”

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.