Yeats gives extremely specific stage directions in The Only Jealousy of Emer, which is unusual in the plays that I’ve read. Now I’m not a drama expert, but I found it strange that the stage directions were so specific about the costumes of the musicians being exactly the same as in The Dreaming of the Bones, and the dance scene with the Sidhe was so specific about her metallic appearance and her other-than-human qualities. In other respects of staging, however, Yeats is purposefully ambiguous, as in his including in the stage directions that “The stage as before can be set against the wall of any room.” In either case, Yeats is very controlling of what his play will look like, because he wants it to affect his audiences in a specific way. He imagines that there is a single formulaic way to do that and he includes the critical elements of that formula in stage directions.
I have been told that stage directions are often tossed to the wind when actually putting on a play, and that playwrights are generally aware of this, so that they provide only very general stage “suggestions” more than stage “directions.” Not so with Yeats. He writes so much of his own vision into this play that it would be tough for lots of different directors to stage it differently. I think therein lies the point, that Yeats imagines his plays as art that does something, that pushes audiences’ buttons in specific ways to achieve a specific effect. For example, including in a stage direction that the stage can be in any room invites people to put on the play in garages, shops and warehouses and not just theaters. If the working class takes Yeats up on his offer and produces the play in local underground, this would diversify his audience and possibly attract the lower class to his and the cultural nationalists’ vision for Ireland. Specifically including that the Woman of the Sidhe should look otherworldly, “more an idol than a human being,” nicely epitomizes Yeats’ vision for how women are to be used in his art, as symbols rather than people. Yeats wants to make absolutely sure that exactly his vision for the play is what audiences see, to that they are affected in exactly the way that he has calculated.