In a conversation with James Agee, the filmmaker John Huston once said, "In pictures, if you do it right, the thing happens, right there on the screen." This week as the final round of pre-preview rehearsals took place for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, you could observe the thing happening, right there on the stage.
What once had seemed a vision on a costume designer's sketchpad or a set designer's computer or, for the cast, in photos on a rehearsal room wall, now has sprung vibrantly alive. As Sean McCourt, who plays a detective in the show, told me the other day, as we watched a rehearsal from the Belasco's first balcony, "Until this point, you're always wondering just exactly what the show will look like. Now we know."
And just what does it look like? Photos elsewhere on this website give a partial answer: there is swirling, vibrant color everywhere you turn. But this is not so much the floral color that's been seen on the world's fashion runways the past month. No, it's beautiful bright and playful hues. And the silhouettes, as they say in fashion land, are most definitely those of the 1980s: miniskirts, padded shoulders, restraint as a dirty word.
The show's costumer, Catherine Zuber, told me at the Belasco the other day, as she supervised the final touches on outfits for the ensemble, "I took especially important visual cues from the opening credits of Almodovar's film." She added: "It's an homage to the movie's look but tailored to the performers we have here in the stage version."
Some of those performers might have been recognizable this week in their costumes, but their hair rendered them almost unfathomable. Danny Burstein, for example, has gone platinum blonde for his role as a taxi driver, and as I first spied him in the dim lights of the theater I honestly thought it was some refugee from the East Village, circa 1986. I told Burstein I didn't recognize him at first.
"I get that a lot right now," he replied.
John Carroll, one of the ensemble and a co-dance captain for the show, told me a little later that he also had some confusion when he first locked eyes on his fellow cast members in their full drag. "It's not just the costumes," he said. "It's the wigs. This is the first show I've ever done with wigs going on like this. I hope it's not the last."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.