When it was time to design the set for Pallas Theatre Collective’s production of “The Yellow Wallpaper” at the Anacostia Arts Center, the dialogue gave the artistic team pretty clear clues as to how it should look. It had to be “monstrous,” with the ability to “induce vomiting,” and a “fetid eyesore” that reveals a haunting woman’s face.
In short, the set had to be ugly enough to hasten the mental deterioration of a woman already in a precarious state. That’s the premise of the 1892 short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman on which the new musical by Sarah Taylor Ellis and Lane Williamson is based.
“This is about the yellow wallpaper on the wall, a pattern that repeats and repeats, and starts to move and meld in the character’s head until that obsession starts to overtake her brain,” says Tracey Elaine Chessum, the production’s co-director. “Not only do we have to get the pattern, we have to see the woman in the wall, we have to see her face, where she’s scratching to get out.”