“My whole day is about fitting people’s bodies,” said costume designer and 2010 Richard E. Sherwood Award winner Ann Closs-Farley—which is one reason why Women Laughing Alone With Salad, which plays the Kirk Douglas Theatre through April 3, 2016, was a dream job for her. On a daily basis, the actors Closs-Farley works with deal with the same body image issues that consume the play’s three female characters—and the rest of us.
But that wasn’t the only reason why this production appealed to her. “I like drag,” said Closs-Farley, adding, “I go big or go home.” This show gave her an opportunity to do both those things while working with a game director in Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director Neel Keller and a great group of actors. It was also a chance to draw inspiration from everything from her own work with men’s and women’s bodies to hallucinogenic musicals like The Who’s Tommy.
“I designed it like a musical, but it wasn’t a musical,” said Closs-Farley, from the sexy salad dress worn by a character described as “ample” to the skin-tight gold body suits worn for a dreamlike rap music sequence—and topped off with beige “mom” bras and underwear. Those body suits, said Closs-Farley, were a riff on Kanye West’s backup dancers’ body paint. “They were completely covered head to toe,” said Closs-Farley. “It still objectifies them.” The “mom” undergarments were inspired by an ode Kanye wrote to his mother.
The show came with some unique challenges, both logistical and creative. Closs-Farley had a project in China that coincided with pre-production, which meant trusting her designs in the hands of Center Theatre Group’s “extraordinary costume team.” The second day of rehearsals involved a film shoot for stage projections, so the actors had to be fitted and tailored in a day. And because the show changed in the technical rehearsal process, Closs-Farley had to adjust her designs to accommodate new quick changes. On the creative side, the biggest challenge was the everyday wear for both work and play. “Trying to get something to look natural and normal is a feat in and of itself,” said Closs-Farley.
Ultimately, the costumes came together just as Closs-Farley had envisioned—which is an incredible anomaly. “Twenty percent of my thought usually comes out,” said Closs-Farley, “but on this show, I got nearly everything I imagined.”