The panes of glass do not look out of place here on the Upper East Side. They could easily be going into an office building or luxury apartment in this neighborhood. But these panes, nine of them, most of which weigh between 750 and 1,000 pounds, have a special purpose: They’re here to create a more than 800-square-foot transparent cube in the middle of the Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall. The cube is the centerpiece of Es Devlin’s set for “The Lehman Trilogy” a play by Stefano Massini about the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers, the financial firm whose inglorious demise sits at the symbolic center of the 2008 financial crisis.
The New York Times critic Ben Brantley called Ms. Devlin’s creation “a time machine” in his review of the production at the National Theater in London. This appeared to be true when, during the construction of the cube, a recording of the actors blared over the speakers in the hall. Some of the glaziers turned their heads to find its source. For a minute or so, the actors’ disembodied voices played across the half-finished set, and it felt like a séance was being conducted in the ruins of a hypermodern temple.
This effect will only be heightened when the creative team arrives — preview performances begin on March 22 — but for a few hours on Friday this uncanny glass box was the star of the show.
It took roughly five hours for a team of eight glaziers and two men working a hydraulic manipulator equipped with gigantic suction cups to move the mammoth glass pieces into place. Amid the sound of carpentry, voices and the city, the team members could be heard quietly coordinating their movements in Russian. When asked if this job was more complex than others he had encountered, Yuriy Fursenko, one of glaziers, shrugged and said no, not after 20 years of working with glass. Gesturing to his surroundings, he added, “It is a new experience,” he added.
Jim Leaver, the production manager of “The Lehman Trilogy” explained that the panes had to be custom made here because their unusual size and shape made it impossible to ship them efficiently from London or purchase them here ready made.
The team moved the panes into place by first picking up one pane at a time off a stack against the wall with the hydraulic arm and pushing it to the lip of the stage. The glaziers then fit the pane into a wooden dolly, attached hand held suction cups and guided the glass into position. From there, they put the glass on the floor and nudged it so that it lined up perfectly with the gap in the structure before lifting it together and fixing it to the frame with screws and panels. After eight painstaking and successful installations, the glaziers gathered to finish their task. But it was not to be. The final pane was cracked during unpacking. After an intense conversation, the team found a solution, confirming, once again, that oldest of theatrical clichés — “the show must go on.” The last piece was replaced and inserted on Monday.
Rebecca Robertson, the Armory’s founding president and executive producer, compared the glass cube to a building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the 20th-century modernist architect known for his austere steel and glass creations. But its function, she explained, extends beyond its form: “This beautiful glass cube is really an actor in the work. Its incredible transparency and glow focuses your attention in such a special way on this story.”