Welles may have been a complex person, but you could say the SITI Company took a black-and-white approach to this enigmatic figure, at least costumewise. Designer James Schuette, too, took Welles' groundbreaking 1941 film as the model for his designs. He notes, "It [Citizen Kane] is a black-and-white film, and since we are using the structure of Citizen Kane to tell the story of Welles' life, it was very informative. We wanted to parallel it in certain ways, so we decided to make the clothes in a similar color palette of blacks and whites and grays and silvers and pretty much keep color out of it."
Seven actors portray multiple characters, and, as Schuette points out, though based on a person or persons in Welles' life, characters are often more representative or iconographic than anything else: the lover, the mother, the producer, the friend. The period of Kane is reflected in the style of clothing Schuette chose, essentially late 30s and early 40s. The one exception is the white, re-embroidered lawn cotton dress worn by the actress who represents Welles' mother, which evokes an earlier era (the teens). The long dress has an open neck, wide collar, and double-tiered skirt.
For the Leni Zadrov character, a composite of Marlene Dietrich, Marion Davies (William Randolph Hearst's mistress on whom the Citizen Kane character Susan Alexander was based), and Rita Hayworth (Welles' wife for a time), Schuette designed a long, black, bias-cut Devore velvet evening gown.
"And then," Schuette laughs, "it was just a lot of men's suits," which is an oversimplification, since the suits range from day to evening wear and even include a carnival man's costume, complete with striped jacket and boater. Welles, whom Schuette says tended to be nattily attired, is dressed in a light gray pin-striped double-breasted suit with a white shirt.
Then there is the character of Stephen Webber, the fictional best friend, based in part on veteran actor John Houseman, who, along with Welles, founded the Mercury Theatre. As if all this wasn't confusing enough, the best friend character is named after the actor portraying Welles (keep in mind that this is a concept piece). But back to the costumes - and even here you get a sense that the SITI Company does not demand an exact rationale as to why a character wears what he or she does. He wears a white tie and tails because "there was just something about him," explains Schuette. "It was the first thing that came to me, that he should be in a tie and tails." All of the men' costumes were built by New York City sartor Mr. Tony, except for the white tuxedo, which is vintage 1930s.
As the show is heavily movement-based, the two aspects that most concerned Schuette were flexibility and endurance: "When you design clothes for the SITI Company, you have to be prepared for them to stand on their heads and roll around the floor," he says.
In designing for a show that has played in more than one location, Schuette aimed for consistency for the sake of the actors. He says, "The actors become used to having certain pieces of clothing, so you kind of have to have a similar structure when you redo it. One little glove means a lot to them."
There was one important difference between the production at BAM and the one in Louisville: no "fat suit" for Welles, who grew rather stout over the years. Initially, the actor playing Welles would put on a large, black padded coat and a fedora with a built-in beard; but the decision was made to cut it from the show, in large part due to the fact that director and designer both thought it more interesting if the actor created transformations without a costume. Says Schuette, "We realized that we just didn't need it."The costume designer adds that his job is made extremely easy by the company members, "They all have wonderful bodies and they wear clothes extremely well."