Aronson, Boris

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ARONSON, BORIS (1900–1980), U.S. stage designer and artist; son of Solomon *Aronson, chief rabbi of Kiev. Born in Kiev, Aronson was trained at the Kiev State Art School and spent five years in the Yiddish and other theaters in Moscow. From his exposure to the Russian experimental school, he began to formulate his theories of stage design: the set should allow varied movement; each scene should contain the mood of the whole play; and through the fusion of color and form, the setting should be beautiful in its own right. But, he added, "a set is only complete when the actors move through it."

Aronson studied in Berlin and Paris and wrote a book on Marc Chagall (1923). In New York he went to work for the small Unser Theater in the Bronx, and in 1925 designed the dream sets for Bronx Express. Thereafter, his rise was rapid, first at Maurice *Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theater and after 1930 on Broadway.

His innovations and his imaginative use of American ideas and fantasies in his sometimes surrealist sets made him the foremost American stage designer by the 1950s. He also held several exhibitions of his paintings and sculptures.

Broadway productions for which he designed the decor include Walk a Little Faster (1933), Three Men on a Horse (1935), Battleship Gertie (1935), Awake and Sing! (1935), Paradise Lost (1935), Cabin in the Sky (1940), South Pacific (1944), Sadie Thompson (1944), The Bird Cage (1950), Season in the Sun (1951), The Country Girl (1952), The Rose Tattoo (1952), I Am a Camera (1952), The Crucible (1953), Bus Stop (1955), A View from the Bridge (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (1957), A Hole in the Head (1957), jb (1959), Incident at Vichy (1964), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Cabaret (1969), The Price (1969), Zorba (1969), Company (1970), Follies (1972), The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), The Great God Brown (1973), A Little Night Music (1973), Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (1973), Dreyfus in Rehearsal (1974), and Pacific Overtures (1976). His last set design was in 1976 for the ballet The Nutcracker, as choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Aronson won eight Tony Awards and maintained an active career as a sculptor and painter until his death. His prodigious work in theater, opera (Mourning Becomes Electra), and ballet design proved that Aronson was a well-rounded set designer. His design of two synagogue interiors and his successful career as a painter and sculptor further distinguished him as one of the few leading figures in 20th-century scene design.


W. George, Boris Aronson et l'art du théâtre (1928); C.A. Glassgold, in: Art in the Theater, 13 (1928), 46f. add. bibliography: F. Rich, Boris Aronson: Stage Design as Visual Metaphor (1989); idem, The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (1987).

[Mark Perlgut /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]