MICHAEL FRANKLIN-WHITE IS USED TO
putting together fantasies -- either his own or someone else's -- on a moment's notice. In part, that's because he's the scenic artist at Arena Stage and sometimes has only three weeks to create a set. But it's also because, as Franklin-White says, "I have a Capability Brown approach to decoration."
Brown, an 18th-century English landscape gardener, approached his work by looking for the "capabilities" in the grounds to be designed and then making the plan conform to what the land was able to deliver. In a way, Franklin-White says he does the same thing with rooms. His goal with his fantasy tableau was to achieve a certain tranquil mood, one conducive to listening to classical music. What remained was for him to see how he could create that mood with what was at hand. Franklin-White's "style," like Brown's, can be seen as the antithesis of style.
The basic elements will always be the same. There will be the stereo equipment, a comfortable chair or two, a glass -- no matter what kind of glass -- of brandy, candles and a branch dotted with lights. "Every room I've created for myself has had a branch like that since I saw the trees all lit up along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago back in 1972," the designer says.
Franklin-White pulled together his music-room fantasy in the Arena Stage painting studio, with the help of Arena assistant property master Chester Hardison and using an assortment of Arena's antique and reproduction props, including a backdrop from Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist." True, those singular objects were simply the ones he had at hand, but, Franklin-White acknowledges, "Here I have access to fabulous things." ::