Turning its focus from Stoppard to Shakespeare, Lincoln Center Theatre is tackling one of the bard's lesser-known plays, Cymbeline, from November 1 through January 6 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Directed by Mark Lamos, Cymbeline has sets by Michael Yeargan, lighting by Brian MacDevitt, sound by Tony Smolenski IV and Walter Trarbach, and costumes by Jess Goldstein.
“Not only have I never designed Cymbeline before, but I'd never seen it or even read it,” says Goldstein. “So it was particularly intriguing to me, as I don't think it's a play that many people know well. And thus, there are not many preconceptions existing as to what it might look like.”
Lamos asked the designers to set the play in a mythical kingdom with influences of Mid-Eastern and Far-Eastern cultures, but not to intentionally reference any one of them realistically. “We're after an extravagant but innocent and naïve take on those ethnic clothes, as they might be represented in illustrations from ancient fairy tales,” says Goldstein. “I also used research from Eastern Russian regions like the Caucasus and Steppes. So it's quite an exciting conglomeration — very colorful but mostly using a tertiary palette of unusual oranges, purples, and greens. This is the world of Shakespeare's ancient Britons.”
In contrast, Goldstein dressed the Britons' enemies, the Romans, in high Italian Renaissance doublets of black and gold velvets so that their world appears more sophisticated. “Though the first time you meet the Romans, they are in a bathhouse and not wearing much of anything!” Goldstein adds. “When the two armies go to battle, the Romans have strong elements of ancient Roman armor in reds and golds. The Briton warriors look like Huns with a Samurai influence, again, very intentionally made up to stress the fable-like quality of the story.”
All of the costumes for Cymbeline were custom-made. “This isn't always affordable in the world of nonprofit theatre, but Lincoln Center is a generous organization and recognized that if the world we are creating is not historically based in a real period and essentially made up, it's not possible to find the clothes anywhere,” explains Goldstein. “My favorite shop, Carelli Costumes, built most of the clothes, including all of the crowns and head pieces, and provided custom fitting, trimming, and accessorizing the armor by Costume Armour. And Brian Hemesath, a very talented young tailor, built 10 of the men's costumes. The beautiful boots were created by Frederick Longtin Handmade Shoes in Nova Scotia.”
“The fabrics are truly amazing — multiple patterns and textures in brocades, satins, velvets, taffetas, and raw silks that were all chosen for their Asian or Russian flavor,” says Goldstein. “It's not a huge show compared to some Shakespeare, but I think there are about 75 costumes — quite an endeavor to accomplish in less than two months.”