The challenge: to design characters who share the same space—but not the same time. The characters in J.T. Rogers’ Madagascar inhabit a single suite in a Roman hotel, ghosting each other through time, each alone in their time and struggle. Visually, however, they exist in the same plane; the audience sees them all at once.
“It’s interesting designing for a trio of characters who share a stage together but who are at different times in their lives,” says Lizzie Donelan, Costume Designer for Madagascar and graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University completing her MFA in Costume Design. “My goal is to respect their pasts and to reflect their current struggles in this segment of their lives.”
First impressions count. Onstage, as in life, we judge by looks. We know a businesswoman by her smart haircut and power suit. We know a politician by his plastic smile and his American flag lapel pin. We know a homeless orphan by her threadbare clothes and the dirt on her face. For Madagascar, Donelan worked with the cast to develop a look to match each character, a first impression that hints at the deeper, more complex personality underneath.
“[Nathan] is a misunderstood, odd-professor type,” Donelan says. “Larry [John Meyers] and I wanted him to feel more put together in the way an economist would be, but there’s a sort of off-kilter aspect about him…He’s the kind of guy who thinks of the perfect thing to say, but three hours too late.”
Donelan describes the character of Lilian as “worldly, graceful, effortlessly classic.” She worked with actress Helena Ruoti to design costuming that would allow “that effortless beauty to shine through.” With the character of June, played by Melinda Helfrich, Donelan notes, “The difference for her is that she’s been inhabiting this room for years. There’s a vulnerability. She’s the only one who’s alone in her own sanctuary.”
“It’s a dream play in a way,” she says. “There’s a kind of subdued sobriety to the whole design.”
Madagascar marks Lizzie Donelan’s first Quantum Theatre production as lead Costume Designer, though she’s worked as an assistant on a previous play. “It all starts with collaboration with the director and the team,” Donelan adds. “The end goal is to create a cohesive and stirring world for these characters….It’s delightful working with [director] Sheila McKenna—she has a keen eye for character.”
Experience the world of Quantum Theatre’s production of Madagascar at The Carlyle downtown for its now extended run, through February 22nd.
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–By Brandon Getz