Hoarders: Theater edition

November 14, 2013

The messy, junk-filled set of “Appropriate” at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. (Stan Barouh)

The set for Woolly Mammoth’s “Appropriate” looks like a bomb made of junk exploded onstage. (In fact, it’s a carefully conceived and executed feat of theatrical design.) The dark comedy takes place in the antebellum mansion of a hoarder; after his death, his kids — estranged both from their patriarch and one another ­— arrive to clean. And clean. And clean. Eventually they find something deep in the clutter that should have remained buried.

The job of creating the crumbling house of junk fell to set designer Clint Ramos and props master Jenn Sheetz. He built it, she filled it — here’s how.

It’s about time

“The biggest challenge [was] the size,” Ramos says. “We wanted the set to have a sense of the grandness of the mansion before it got all dilapidated. We have 20-foot walls, and one of the bigger challenges is the detail that goes into it. We have to paint every watermark, every stain, everything to make it appear that time has really taken its toll on the house.”

Stocking up

“I took this as an opportunity to buy something I wanted for my stock,” Sheetz says. “I always wanted a deer head, so I bought one, so that made me happy.” Sheetz also had a chance to tidy up her prop storage space. “It’s pretty empty right now, which is great,” she says. “I can finally clean it up!”

The meaning of the madness

“What we’re striving to do is show a life,” Ramos says. “The house is this dying animal that people are trying to save, but you can see it’s kind of hopeless. It is, on the surface, about accumulated stuff, but it’s really about why do we accumulate this stuff?”

Trash collecting

Sheetz hit up thrift stores and junk shops for some items (“People at the front of the store would be looking at me like, ‘Why did you just buy 10 cameras?’ ”) and counted on donations for others. She even asked attendees at a theater fundraiser to bring in old junk mail, newspapers and magazines. The props Woolly doesn’t keep (like the dozens of extension cords Sheetz bought) will be offered to the actors to buy or be donated.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW; through Dec. 1, $40-$72.50; 202-393-3939. (Gallery Place)

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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