The real star of a play in the Northern Liberties may be the quick-change artistry that happens back stage. Watch a video of the Velco-pulling and wig-swapping.
Two actresses. Twelve characters. Fifty-eight costume changes.
“Meanwhile …” is a quick-change play produced by the Brat theater company at the Ruba Club in Northern Liberties. It’s a crime farce set in the 1940s, filled with the usual suspects: thugs in pinstripe suits, dames in bodice gowns, a private dick in a fedora and a blond moll in a cocktail dress. There’s a grifter bellhop, a sassy Puerto Rican maid, an ingénue in distress.
“A lot of quick-change plays are more period silhouette, or a loose-fitting, hick-ish, laid- back silhouette,” said Bob Goodrich, aka Bobby Fabulous, the costume designer. “So the really tailored clothes of the ’40s have proved an interesting challenge.”
The choreography backstage is as tightly managed–perhaps more so–than the action onstage. Whole costumes, including three-piece suits and evening dresses, are fitted with zippers or Velco up the back, so the entire ensemble can be stepped into and closed in seconds.
The action is written loosely, to give one actor flexibility to stall onstage while the other actor changes backstage into a different character.
Part of the comedy is the margin of error. During the frantic pace of the action, both onstage and offstage, something will always go wrong.
“It’s part of the gimmick of the show,” said director Madi Distefano. “I’ve done enough of these to know little jokes like that work. For example, Diana (a crime boss wife) lecturing Sticks (her drummer boyfriend) says, ‘Here I am waiting for you and you’re off playing the maid.’ Ha. Ha. Ha. Audience loves being in on that–they feel like they’re in on our secret.”
“Meanwhile …” is not the only quick-change play right now. “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler features two actors playing eight roles. In that production, both actors are men.