Yale hosts Ming Cho Lee exhibit

Submitted Photo Stage designs and models by Ming Cho Lee. Above: “Don Juan,” 1979, Arena Stage, Washington, DC., Molière, author; Liviu Ciulei, director.

Submitted Photo

Stage designs and models by Ming Cho Lee. Above: “Don Juan,” 1979, Arena Stage, Washington, DC., Molière, author; Liviu Ciulei, director.

NEW HAVEN — Theatre and art lovers have only until Feb. 1 to make tracks to the Yale School of Architecture and check out the genius that is “Stage Designs by Ming Cho Lee.”

One of the country’s preeminent theatre, film, dance and opera designers, Lee’s amazing work speaks for itself in this long-overdue exhibit highlighting some of his best designs.

In 1995, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center hosted an exhibit of Ming Cho Lee’s set designs. This collection, “Stage Designs by Ming Cho Lee,” was then shown in Taipei in 1997 and in China in 2011, but his work has never been exhibited at Yale until now.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ming Cho Lee at Stratford’s American Shakespeare Theatre in 1977. The theatre was producing “Twelfth Night,” starring the late Lynn Redgrave, and Lee designed the play’s sumptuous settings and gorgeous tapestries that I still recall fondly to this day. I remember Lee as a modest, self-effacing man whose love of theatre was clearly obvious in all that he did.

His credits alone reflect a substantial portion of American theatre history. He designed more than 30 productions for Joseph Papp at the Public Theater, including the original off-Broadway production of “Hair.” He has also designed for the Metropolitan Opera and countless other companies while winning awards that include the Drama Desk, Helen Hayes and the 1983 Tony Award for best scenic design (“K2”).

At the Yale School of Architecture Gallery, more than 60 of Lee’s original set models are on display and the intricacies of his work are a thing of beauty to observe. His two-tiered glass and stair design for “Don Juan” will transfix you even as the rough-hewn rendering for O’Neil’s “Moon for the Misbegotten” will fill your senses with the earthy ambiance he somehow was able to create.

It’s also very interesting to observe how Lee approached the same play years apart with different directors and theatre companies. “The Glass Menagerie” and several of Shakespeare’s classics can be seen through Lee’s designs at different periods of his life and one can note how specific concepts radically change how a play will eventually look on stage.

In addition to the scale models, there are also sketches and photographs selected from the nearly 300 productions Lee designed as well as some original watercolors by the master.

Visitors are also advised to watch the short but informative biographical film about Lee’s work that is available on site.

The exhibit will continue at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery, 180 York St., through Feb. 1. Hours are: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is not to be missed.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.