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Furnishing a vision

Jim Noone designs sets to match playwright's art


GLENS FALLS ---- Jim Noone just finished set design projects for two Broadway plays and taught a semester of scenic design classes at Boston University. On Friday, he hops a flight to San Francisco to be on hand for the filming of the stage production of "Sweeney Todd," another play for which he designed the sets.

But for a few hours Wednesday afternoon, Noone, a native of Glens Falls, was ensconced in rehearsals for "Chrysalis," a two-act musical by Gilles Chiasson that takes an unbridled but humorous look at the intricacies of a dysfunctional American family.

"This week has been a homecoming for me," said Noone, who for the past 20 years has had a full-time career as a set designer, creating scenery for plays on Broadway and around the country. "It's not a lucrative career move, but a sentimental one ... and I don't have the pressure of a New York Times critic in the audience."

Noone's successful career as a theatrical set designer has led him around the country and to the stages of Broadway on a regular basis. He designed the set for "Jekyll & Hyde," which is still playing on the Great White Way.

He now maintains an office in Manhattan, James Noone Designs, and employs two assistants full time.

"I usually have six or seven projects going at once," he said. "Next month I start work on four different shows in different states."

The 1979 graduate of Glens Falls High School recalled how a serendipitous conversation with his agent led him back to his hometown this summer.

"My agent is a member of the Adirondack Theatre Festival board," he recalled. "He was going on about a play in Glens Falls, and I said, 'Wait a minute, I was born there.'"

And, in a sense, Noone said, he's followed in his mother Mary Lou's footsteps.

"She's been involved with the Glens Falls Community Theatre for more than 50 years," he said. "I grew up around theater."

Noone, who got his theatrical start in fifth grade with Glens Falls Community Theatre's production of "Fiddler on the Roof," said he couldn't be more thrilled with the progress of Adirondack Theatre Festival over the last few years.

"If someone told me years ago that Broadway-caliber talent would be producing theater in Glens Falls, I might not have believed it," he smiled.

"I mean, there is where I used to eat grilled cheese sandwiches," said Noone, pointing across the room to where Woolworth's lunch counter once was. "And in the back of the building was the turtle department."

Noone said what he loves most about set design is the imagination required to create the right environment for the story.

"You have to become the characters and think like them," he explained. "It's not about your taste, but their taste."

For "Chrysalis," Noone's job was to re-create the home of an upper-class New Jersey family, complete with a conservative-looking living room and basement and the quiet comfort of a master bedroom.

Other rooms of the house are also represented on stage, but in a nonconventional style that Noone said is symbolic of the family's lack of cohesion.

"I don't fill in all the blanks with scenery," he said. "The exciting thing about theater is being able to use the imagination. ... I have no interest in designing sets for film or television."

Copyright 2001 Glens Falls Newspapers Inc. The Post-Star. All rights reserved.