Costume designer Joan Markert introduces the whimsical edginess of an Alexander McQueen runway show to the 17th-century Parisians behaving badly in Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's "The School for Lies."
The update of "The Misanthrope" debuted off-Broadway last year under the direction of Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie. David Ives ("Venus in Fur") has written a rhyming mix of modern vulgarity and Moliere's classic commentary on the hypocrisy of French aristocrats, circa 1666.
Ms. Markert read the script and was reminded of the McQueen-influenced costumes of "Illyria," a 2011 Point Park University production designed by Michael Montgomery. She delved into the 17th-century costumes for the original production and preferred the contemporary twist of edgy runway shows to clothe the cast led by Leo Marks as Frank, Mr. Ives' playful renaming of Moliere's protagonist. Frank resolves to tell the truth at all times and therefore insults everyone in his path -- until he meets his match in Celimene (Nike Doukas, Mr. Marks' real-life wife).
The costumes are rich in detail, and each detail tells a story.
The women's hats, for instance, may put you in mind of Philip Treacy designs worn last year by Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Ms. Markert called on her former student, Andrew Ferri, to create the wild headpieces.
Mr. Ferri makes his living working at the family's Lamplighter restaurant in Delmont.
"Every time I have an opportunity, I try to pull him back into theater," said Ms. Markert, who teaches costume history at Point Park. "He made these wonderful confections that at the actual time period were called a fontage, which was pleated lace, ribbon rosettes and flowers on a little cap."
For "School of Lies," Mr. Ferri started with a circular base for the character-centric pieces. "Celimene has sort of a pagoda shape on hers; Eliante [Robin Abramson, in her PICT debut] has a spiral that encases some flowers; and Arsinoe [Helena Ruoti], who I thought of as having sort of a barbed tongue -- she's one of those sanctimonious, critical people -- so hers has sprays with pointed things on the edge."
Theatrical budgets don't always match ambitions, but for this PICT production, Ms. Markert had a running start, including some of Mr. Montgomery's "Illyria" costumes. Ms. Ruoti's "School for Lies" dress, for instance, was designed for the show at Point Park but never used. Some of the men's coats are reworked from designs with single sleeves and asymmetrical skirts.
Other looks required the from-scratch approach, which brought the costume designer to a favorite store, The Fabric Place in Mt. Lebanon.
"I did buy one piece of fabric there because I wanted Clitander, who is sort of a prissy character, in skin-tight knickers. It's hard to make conventional fabric work skintight," Ms. Markert said. "In fact, in the early part of the 19th century, men often had suits with two types of knickers -- one you could stand up in and one you could sit down in. But since he needs to do both in this show, I decided to use a stretch fabric."
The Fabric Place carries a large selection of such fabric because it caters to ice skaters and dancers, the designer said. "I posed the problem to owner Tami [Sampson], who found a beautiful stretch wool."
In the lead role of Frank, Mr. Marks sports a wild wig worthy of an '80s metal band. On Monday, with opening night just days away, Ms. Markert noted that the wig was due for a trim after she noticed it bothered the dynamic actor in rehearsals. She also was checking out the wear and tear on the flower-embellished dress worn by Ms. Abramson's Eliante, who flings herself into Frank's arms, and the effects of being dragged on a brocade coat.
While steeped in the aesthetic of "The School for Lies," the costumer also was preparing costumes for a show with a completely different sensibility: Point Park Conservatory Theatre's "The Crucible," opening Dec. 6.
The PICT production is a bit of a push out of Ms. Markert's comfort zone, which she said tempered the potential for taking edgy too far. With the designs of the late Lee Alexander McQueen as her muse, she has adopted his concept of borrowing generously from period clothing and then spinning it in a direction suited to Mr. Ives' comedy of bad manners.
"So many things repeat and repeat in fashion that it's not unseemly to do that," she said.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.