Irwin Shaw's Bury The Dead was originally written during the 1930s between the two World Wars. The piece is somewhat expressionistic, given that six of its characters are dead soldiers who refuse to be buried. Director Joe Calarco provides a new "frame" for the piece by writing original content to infuse with the original text creating a play within a play. The new setting is that of a staged reading of the play Bury The Dead at a local town hall meeting. A character named “Our Host” drives the production. As the play progresses through time, "Our Host" becomes increasingly overwhelmed by the content of the staged reading of Bury The Dead until she becomes a character herself, playing all the female roles within the play.
The elements of sound design for this production reflect the multiple realities from the world of the staged reading within the town hall atmosphere to the actual world of Irwin's imagination, with dead men refusing to be buried. During the town hall meeting scenes, the primary element of the design is a wirelessly controlled boombox. "Our Host" starts and stops the boombox as a way to provide her own sound for the staged reading. However, sounds emanating from the boombox sometimes appear in other speakers hidden within the theatre. This effect is used increasingly as the play progresses, until the elements of the theatre, including the sound, overcome the play's participants.
The design incorporates two quadraphonic zones (eight speakers,) one four-speaker zone on the floor of the theatre, and another rigged to the balcony, along with a wireless boombox, wireless podium microphone, and subwoofer.
This compilation of sounds presents the impression of a distant battle, but through the lens of our boombox. During the performance of this set of cues, the battle begins to depart from the boombox speakers and moves into the other speakers around the theatre, bombarding the audience with an expressionistic reality of battle. Listen closely for the sound of buttons being pressed on the boombox. Because the sound design allows transmission of sound to the boombox wirelessly, the audience is led to believe that an actor is actually playing the sounds from a CD on the boombox. This illusion makes the leap of the sound from the boombox to the main speakers more surreal.
In Bury the Dead, two major moments are carried by sound design. This sequence represents one of them and requires coordination of the actors, the stage manager, other designers, and the sound engineer to execute properly. This compilation begins with the sound of an air raid siren. The siren has been slightly altered to imply memory rather than realism. Layered in with the siren is the sound of a General's voice amplified as if through a bullhorn. "Our Host" hears this siren and voice and attempts to escape the confines of the theatrical space. While attempting to escape, she is assaulted by the sound of four closing doors, emanating from the four corners of the theater. All of these sounds are underscored by the sound of an escalating heartbeat and erratic breathing. Once sealed in, "Our Host" is bombarded by the sound of a World War II bombing raid. The sound of the air raid sweeps over her as if it was a memory coming to life. At the end of the raid, the sound appears to "close" up, leaving an aftermath of fire. From this point on, she becomes an "Everywoman" and serves as each dead soldier's wife visiting her fallen warrior on the battlefront.
The final collage is the other major moment for sound in the production. The final four pages of the script are performed to this underscore. Director Joe Calarco created a condensed version of the final four pages of dialogue. We then recorded the actors' voices and composed a collage of the material, including sounds relaying a sense of Americana. The action presented on stage by the actors during this event is representative of a call to arms. As the intensity of the scene grows, each soldier confronts the "wife" who at this point begins reassuming the role of "Our Host." During the final moments of the collage, the soldiers form a line and march off as if to war. The end of this event sounds as if someone turns the whole soundscape off. In the silence, "Our Host" addresses the audience with a challenge to arise and take action. The entire event is comprised of many sonic elements and immerses the audience in a surround-sound environment. The voices swirl around the audience's seating area and the underscoring elements of Americana sweep by the audience's left and right with movement from the seating to the stage. The creation of this event required much research and recording.
In several scenes, the dead soldiers explain the nature of their deaths to the audience. A convention in sound was developed to underscore these scenes. This example presents the maximum density in sound for this convention. These cues are broadcast subtly to the audience and are intended to present an unnerving quality. At the start of this set of cues, a mockup of the wireless boombox content is presented. "Our Host" mimes switching between the Latin Requiem and Jewish Kaddish on the wireless boombox. In the original script, two priest characters exist and provide these prayers as part of the play's action. The underscore that follows this convention heightens the dialogue of the dead soldiers.
"Michael Rasbury's you-are-there battle sound effects -- builds in excitement...There's plenty of imagination at work here and, if you ever had the desire to see Bury the Dead, this is probably your best chance for doing so." -Lighting and Sound America
Kudos also to the extremely clever design team of Sandra Goldmark, R. Lee Kennedy, Kathryn Rohe, and Michael Rasbury; they take the facility from raw and simple at its most ordinary existence to a mythic, profound space that supports the play wonderfully." -New York Theatre
"Slowly, [the characters] become immersed in the world and drama of this fictitious war -- as does the audience, thanks to the effective work of R. Lee Kennedy, whose dramatic lighting design allows the drama to shift from location to location with ease, and Michael Rasbury's soundscape, which alternates between the bombastic and the gently atmospheric." -TheatreMania