The Secrets Behind The Liar’s Lavish Costumes

Outside the Theatre   The Secrets Behind The Liar’s Lavish Costumes How Classic Stage Company is bringing 17th-century opulence to the downtown stage.
Murell Horton
Murell Horton Marc J. Franklin
Murell Horton
Murell Horton Marc J. Franklin

Who: Murell Horton
Outside: Classic Stage Company

Horton is the costume designer for the Classic Stage Company staging of The Liar, David Ives’ adaptation of Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille. The 17th century farce of mistaken identity and secrets is directed by Michael Kahn, the artistic director of Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., who helmed the world-premiere staging there in 2010. Performances began January 11 ahead of a January 26 opening.

The costumes for this show look beautiful! It’s rare to see such lavish costumes on the smaller Off-Broadway stage.
Murell Horton: They look opulent because we had them already. We’re fortunate that we did the show at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C. in 2010, and the costumes held up. They look new. [Director] Michael Kahn is fond of these pieces, so they were held in storage.

What did you do about the shoes?
The costume shop in D.C. worked with us; we were able to rent custom footwear from them. Footwear can really let a production down, just like if you were to see someone with shoes that were worn out, you might make a different judgment about them.

So might it be difficult for a smaller, not-for-profit theatre to have the budget for these kinds of costumes usually?
I think it would be hard, budget-wise, but also in terms of labor—that’s the hardest thing. Right out of grad school, I worked at the Pearl Theatre when it was in the East Village. It was just me, and an 18-year-old intern doing classic theatre costumes. We made some really great pieces, but we were sleeping in the theatre! I was the draper, the stitcher, and the milliner. It’s interesting to come back to [Off-Broadway], having worked at places like the Shakespeare Theatre Company or an opera company where you have full support. I think the heart is in it with the small theatres, but they’re limited by the number of people [they can hire] and space.

How many people worked on these costumes?
The Shakespeare Theatre costume shop had about 25 people working there at the time. I’d say we probably spent about four weeks working on them. Working as a milliner alone, you can spend three days on a hat. Everything is hand sewn. Hats and shoes are particularly time consuming, and like I mentioned earlier, they seem to be what people notice.

Does the CSC production also use the same set?
No, we started over, but the set that Alexander Dodge has done is sort of based on what we did before. The set changes color depending on what kind of light hits it, which was my original intention with the clothes. They’re silks with a golden brown in one direction, and a red, orange, or blue thread in the other direction. In certain lights you can shift the color of the clothes.

Browse through pictures of The Liar’s costumes on Horton’s website here. For more information on the CSC production of The Liar, visit ClassicStage.org.

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