A recent graduate of the Yale Drama School (class of 2000), costume designer Miranda Hoffman made a big splash on the downtown New York theatre scene with her whimsical designs for Target Margin's Crazy Day or The Marriage of Figaro. The production was seen last fall at the Ohio Theatre in Soho, as part of the 2001/2002 season.
Translated by the company and directed by its artistic director, David Herskovits, with sets by Emily T. Phillips, lighting by Josh Epstein, and sound design by Michael Kraskin, this zany interpretation looked at the classic Beaumarchais play from a contemporary vantage point. "I saw their Dido and liked their attitude," says Hoffman, who relates closely to Herskovits and his stylized approach to theatre. "He wants theatre to provide the magic you don't see in everyday life."
To put the Herskovits brand of magic into Figaro, the company tried to imagine what the world of the characters was really like. "We looked at the world within the play, and found it to be very decadent, and very erotic," says Hoffman. "Power was also very important, and all the relationships were a little turned. It's messy in a beautiful way and I tried to express that in the costumes. They're colorful, playful, and sexy, yet just a little bit dirty."
Fashion images from the 18th to 21st century provided Hoffman with fodder for her designs, as she went about blending period and contemporary styles without concern. "The fabrics evoke the 18th century," she explains, referring to the use of flowery brocades and taffetas, as well as front-laced bodices on the women and tights and garters under a tailcoat for the Count. "The men's bodies and legs were meant to look erotic in that period," Hoffman adds. She also put some of the women in pants to shift things around a bit.
To emphasize the fact that things are just a bit odd in Figaro's world, Hoffman put the men in shoes with higher heels, in addition to letting them show off their legs. "The men were as ornamental as the women in the world we created," she says. "The women navigate the world better in the play, so they are more surefooted. The Count is a clumsy character wearing high heels with jewels; not very practical."
To accent this world gone awry, Hoffman invented a tasty color palette she refers to as "bruised fruit. That's the phrase that was in my head," she says. "Everybody in the play is like fruit that's a little too ripe." From acid green, orange, and plum, to tasty browns and reds, Hoffman created a fruit bowl of costumes full of pith. "Everything was bought," she notes. "There was no shop to create anything for this production." So she stalked thrift shops and department stores looking for unusual items.
These include the variety of skirts worn by the women. "The Countess wears clothes that are a little like a Barbie doll, but not too prissy," Hoffman explains. "She is sexy with tight pants and a skirt that is open in the front and snaps on and off. The silk flowers on her hip were spray-painted black, as if they had faded."
The younger Suzanne (who became a snappy Suzy-Suzanne in this translation) wore tight-fitting paisley pants that Hoffman felt referred to the 18th century. "They are a period-style fabric, yet worn with a new bodice laced up with nothing under it," she says. "The final costumes came together in fittings as we tried things on." Hats with veils, exposed midriffs, and a wedding dress with a bustier top were all part of the anything-goes wardrobe.
Hoffman also designed the hair, buying cheap wigs and styling them to add to each character's persona. "It's low-rent, but that's part of the appeal," he says. "Also, if the makeup got on the clothes, that was okay, even desirable. It makes it a little less like a museum piece."
The use of very faux beards, for the men and the women, allowed the characters to double easily, "in a way that doesn't fool the audience, but makes them complicit in a theatrical device," Hoffman explains. The same is true for the use of large lace mantillas, which transform the entire cast to giggling girls wearing headdresses. "The lace is pale lemon, marigold yellow, peachy peach, and fabulously tacky."
The end result is a look of trashy elegance that went hand in hand with Herskovits' fanciful yet intelligent approach to the play. "David works on a gut level, and allows his designers to do the same," Hoffman adds. And even if the fruitiness looks a little bruised, this fun-filled Figaro was a production you could really sink your teeth into.
All photos courtesy Target Margin