I arrived in the basement of the Booth Theatre to have a chat with Ryan Rossetto, the wardrobe supervisor of "Other Desert Cities." While there, I also met some appliances who think they're human. You read that correctly. "All the appliances here have made Oscar picks," said Rossetto, who arrived in New York from Oregon in 1995 and has been steadily employed in theater since. Images of Oscarish actors have mysteriously popped up to grace the equipment in question. Rossetto explained: "The microwave really likes Octavia Spencer, from 'The Help', and the washer likes that guy" - Jean Dujardin - "from 'The Artist.'"
As you might expect from a wardrobe supervisor whose arms are covered in tattoos and who, by his own admission, is also a costume designer whose productions tend "to happen at 2 am in some Brooklyn warehouse with an audience of four people," the appliances' Oscar-pool behavior shies away from the conventional. "The dryer likes Michael Fassbender from 'Shame' and the water cooler prefers Tilda Swinton, from 'We Need To Talk About Kevin.' Neither of them ended up getting an Oscar nomination. But favorites are favorites."
Lest you think that the Booth Theater appliances exist merely to place wagers on Hollywood's most glamorous horse race, Rossetto - who began working backstage at the age of ten at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and not just sweeping up, either - is quick to disabuse you. "The washer and dryer get a steady workout," he said. "About half the clothing in this show is laundered almost every day, and the other half, things like knitwear, need periodic dry cleaning."
Rossetto, who with "Other Desert Cities" is working on his 13th Broadway show and his first assignment for Lincoln Center Theater, said that he and the show's three dressers "have to make sure that the clothing looks the same from week to week." Even with clothing as contemporary as that of "Other Desert Cities," which lacks the corsets and crinolines of a period piece, the maintenance presents difficulties.
"The tennis whites in this show's first scene present quite a challenge," Rossetto said. "To keep them sparkling we've used every stain remover known to man. We go through a case of OxiClean every two months."
According to Rossetto, costumes go through in a week onstage what they would go through in three months in the real world. In other words, they wear out. If a production has gone through the multiple versions of a costume purchased before rehearsals begin, then a search must take place for replacements. "In 'Other Desert Cities,'" said Rossetto, "the character of Trip wears a tee shirt in a very specific shade of blue. When we ran out of them we had to go online to places like eBay to find more." That online-auction site was also used to track down more of the Michael Kors sequined tank tops worn by Judith Light's character, Silda Grauman. The show has other high-end pieces, befitting a rich Republican clan in Palm Springs: Ferragamo and Kate Spade are represented, and there is a Tory Burch purse that is so coveted it has to be locked up every night.
Silda also wears a silk blouse that she claims is authentic Pucci from Loehmann's, causing her sister, Polly, to retort, "Right. They have originals for fourteen ninety-five. It's a miracle!"
So which is it, real or replica? "Silda's blouse is made of true Pucci fabric," said Rossetto. "But it was made in a shop, not bought in a store." Unfortunately, the supplier recently ran out of the fabric.
"In a case like that, we go back to the show's costume designer." (Here, the wonderfully talented David Zinn.) "We asked: 'What should we do?'"
"I think some things should be left to the imagination," Rossetto replied.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.