I'm translating an American article on a theatre production that is really challenging for a non-native speaker. Here's a passage describing one of the props, a car:

Indeed, the set, by Maria Tregubova, works its own defiant treachery: it’s made up of part trompe l’oeil deception, part functional props. Nowhere is its sleight-of-hand more beguiling than in a piecemeal car — only one door actually opens — into which [the actors] hop and circle the stage on a turntable track.

I can't understand what does the word "piecemeal" mean here. According to other articles on this production, the "car" is a giant photo of a car with a cut-out "window" through which one can see the actors' faces. There is no definition of "piecemeal" in the dictionaries that would be helpful here.

I also struggle to understand the meaning of the phrase "only one door actually opens": does the word "only" here mean "but" (like "you would think it this and that, but it's different, one door actually opens") or does it mean that "there are many doors, but none of them are working, except for this one"? Perhaps it would be clear if I understood the word "piecemeal".

Many thanks in advance, and I hope this is the last question I ask on this article : )

  • 2
    “Only one door opens” is meant as an explanation to why the car is ‘piecemeal’. I agree that piecemeal is an odd word to choose to describe the car, but it's clearly meant to mean that it's not a whole car: it's a car made in individual pieces (i.e., the door). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 26 '15 at 15:37
  • Oh, thank you! Somehow I thought that "into which" referred to the door, not to the car. Now it does seem a bit more clear :) – Elizaveta Levina Jul 26 '15 at 15:41

I think the usage here is that doing something piecemeal means to only do a bit at a time, usually what is immediately needed (or what you can afford to).

So, the prop car only needs one working door and so that's what the prop-makers build - a car with one working door. If the director later decides that he needs its wheels to go round too, then those will be added. The car is built "piecemeal".

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