For its first six years, Hudson Stage Company went through its share of set designers.
Then, in 2006, Romanian-born designer Andreea Mincic showed up to design “Manhattan Casanova” and she has been creating extraordinary worlds on the tiny stage at the Woodward Hall Theater on Pace University’s Briarcliff campus ever since.
There’s the upscale Westchester home in “Rabbit Hole,” a rustic Canadian barn in “Mary’s Wedding,” a Florida retirement village in “Murderers” and a frosty island of domestic isolation for “The Retreat from Moscow,” the play that marked her first collaboration with Hudson Stage co-founder and frequent director Dan Foster.
Foster says he was immediately struck by the difference Mincic’s European sensibility brought to her designs.
“The materials she’s interested in working in, the color,” he says. “At first, it was completely the opposite of what I expected, but I didn’t judge.”
Mincic smiles at the memory.
“He doesn’t judge,” she says. “He just said, ‘OK, let’s see where we’re gonna go.’”
There are always compromises between designer and director, but Foster says Mincic “pushes me in a way that’s healthy. It’s painful at the moment, but in the end it’s healthy.”
Take for example, Hudson Stage’s spring show, John Kolvenbach’s “Love Song,” which opens tomorrow night for a three-weekend run.
Foster directs a cast that includes Westchester residents Kurt Rhoads — a regular at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, who lives in Garrison — and Judith Hawking, of Peekskill. They play husband and wife, Harry and Joan. (Read an interview with Hawking and Rhoads here.)
Also in the cast are Aubyn Philabaum as Molly and Christopher Domig as Beane.
The rapid-fire rhythm of Kolvenbach’s dialogue — in a play about the infectious nature of love — was praised in earlier productions in London, Chicago and Cincinnati. The Hudson Stage production marks its New York premiere.
Rather than split the stage, Mincic’s design carves Beane’s smaller space out of Joan and Harry’s larger apartment.
“These two characters, brother and sister, are very connected,” Mincic says. “And I felt putting him in this hole was a box inside a bigger world.”
Mincic also chose to clad the walls of Beane’s apartment in shiny, stainless-steel, far from the downtrodden, dark feel the script indicated.
“I wanted a little reflection and a feel of some other kind of world,” she said.
Foster bought it.
Foster interjects: “I chose the ones that were nothing that I would have thought of five years ago, but part of it is Andreea knowing our space and knowing the play, and the way she solves it is a good solution.”
Olivia Sklar, who produces the Hudson Stage shows along with fellow co-founder Denise Bessette, says Mincic also respects the bottom line.
“She works miracles with our limited budgets and I know as a producer that she’ll bring it in on that budget and it’ll be gorgeous and workable and imaginative,” Sklar says.
“It’ll serve the play and the actors,” Sklar adds. “And knowing the space so well, there’s a shorthand there. We don’t have a scene shop, so what we ask of designers is above and beyond what other theaters do.”
The budget for “Love Song” precluded fancy hydraulic solutions for one bit of staging, when the apartment seems to close in on Beane. Instead, Andrew Gmoser will achieve the effect with his lighting design.
“As I tell my son all the time, just because we can use the technology doesn’t mean we should,” Foster says. “My rule has been that the magic that some theaters can do on stage I want to do in people’s minds.”
When Bessette, Sklar and Foster called Mincic about “Love Song” and asked her if it could be done at Woodward Hall, the designer read the script and had an answer.
“I didn’t tell them we shouldn’t do it,” Mincic recalls. “I told them it was a lot more complicated than ‘Rabbit Hole’ — and still they chose it,” she says, laughing.
Thus began another odyssey from her Brooklyn home to Briarcliff Manor.
Mincic — who holds Ohio University degrees in designing for costumes, sets and lighting — isn’t one to deliver the blueprints and skedaddle. She’s hands-on.
“I really think that designing is serving the art, so you just give me something and I’ll make it work,” she says.
Her command of English is growing, she says, but there’s one concept that still somehow eludes her Romanian point of view: romantic comedy.
“Every time I hear ‘romantic comedy,’ I’m like “Ohh, one of those,’” she says. “I like comedy, but there’s something about romantic comedy that I don’t know how to take it. I’m somewhat dark, I guess. I don’t know how the romance comes in.”
What: “Love Song,” by John Kolvenbach
Where: Hudson Stage, Woodward Hall Theatre at Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor.
When: Weekends through May 8.
Tickets: $30; $25 seniors and students; $20 to those with a Pace ID. General admission. Discounts for groups.
(Top photo by Joe Larese/The Journal News: Designer Andreea Mincic of Hudson Stage on the set she designed for Hudson Stage’s “Love Song,” at Woodward Hall Theater at Pace University.
Other photos, a gallery of sketches, models and designs by Andreea Mincic, are, from top: A sketch for “Love Song,” a model from “Mary’s Wedding” in 2008, and the set for “Rabbit Hole” in 2009 with, from left: Susannah Schulman, Lucy Martin, Theo Allyn and Tony Carlin.