By Aliya Charney
As Antipholus of Syracuse remarks in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the town of Ephesus “is full of cozenage / As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, / Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind [and] Disguised cheaters.” For costume designer Beaver Bauer, Cal Shakes’ production of The Comedy of Errors is a welcomed challenge. The magic present in Errors differs greatly from other examples of Shakespearean sorcery because the illusions seen on stage are rooted in farce, not enchantment. Thus, the costume design plays a pivotal role in the audience’s involvement and comprehension of the baffling events that transpire on stage.
Ephesus, an ancient port city in Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea, serves as the setting for The Comedy of Errors. On the edge of Asia Minor, Ephesus, at the turn of the last century, was equally influenced by Eastern and Western styles. Therefore, costuming the play, Bauer combines various inspirations to create a unique “East-Meets-West” look. “Ephesus is a place of wonder. The Ephesian world is fun, surprising and different,” she says. Director Aaron Posner described one aspect of the look and feel of Comedy as a “Croatian circus.” To Bauer, this does not mean bright colors and extravagance, but rather, a subtle exotic and quirkiness. According to Bauer, Ephesus is a “nucleus where people pass through”; therefore, the challenge was to create a style that creates a sense of “the familiar within the unfamiliar.” For example, for the twin Antipholi, Bauer dresses them with vests over their robes, what she describes as a “more western, quirky way of styling.”
For the women of The Comedy of Errors, especially the sisters Adriana and Luciana, Bauer cites the upper and royal classes of Asia Minor in the 1920’s. Bauer notes that, during this time period, the men were wearing traditional vestments, but the women were more likely to wear western-styled gowns (i.e. “flapper dresses.”) Bauer incorporates this aspect into her design because, although The Comedy of Errors is “not rooted to a specific time period” it is, very clearly, “rooted in a specific place.” This mix of Eastern and Western fashion perfectly encapsulates Posner’s vision of not interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.
Another major factor that went into Bauer’s costume design was the notion of currency and economic status, which proves a major theme in The Comedy of Errors. The frequent transfer of money and goods throughout the play allowed Bauer and her team to think creatively about how each character would carry valuable goods and funds, such as in an Eastern money pouch or in a Westernized cummerbund. These small yet significant costume pieces also grant Bauer the opportunity to add dynamic colors and patterns to the existing pallet.
Bauer has worked with all of The Comedy of Errors cast members previously, so she felt like she could predict what the actors would want, and need, from their costumes before rehearsals began. “I held a preconception of what the actors might do with their characters [and] I created looks to accommodate that,” she says. And accommodate she did: “The trick is, you must make sure that the costume does not dictate the actors, but supports them.”
Bauer reveals that the greatest challenge in the costume design was adjusting the styles to support “quick changes.” With many actors playing multiple roles on stage, costume changes have to be fast and efficient, especially when an actor switches characters within a single scene. But Bauer embraces these challenges. “We take it as a puzzle—embrace it and nail it. That’s the most fun we have. There are practical considerations that affect our designs, but challenges like these ultimately spark the greatest ideas and most creativity.”
You can see Beaver Bauer’s costumes in The Comedy of Errors, which is playing at the Bruns till July 20th. Get your tickets here!