by JANET GILMORE
Cherry season is almost over; the first acorn of the season bonked me on the head; I wonder where the summer went, and I have to make Pattie pregnant. I’ve never had to make anybody pregnant before; it’s not easy.
Pattie (Nancy Bennett) is the mother of Kimberly (Sonya Hearn), title character of the play “Kimberly Akimbo” by David Lindsay-Abaire, which opens at Stagecrafters Theater on Sept. 9. Pattie is very pregnant in the play, and I’m a costumer.
In the costume department, we’re asked to take perfectly normal-looking people and make them look as if they’re in any of life’s many stages. Need a bride? No sweat, we’re floating in bride dresses. Just kick the bucket? That’s OK, we have shrouds galore. We can do life, death and all the in-betweens.
But I’ve never been asked to make anyone pregnant before. Even before I could begin to experiment, I lost time fending off a blitz of e-mails telling me I was assigned to do make-up as well. I don’t do make-up. I didn’t even make up dolls when I was a kid. If I knew how to do make-up, I’d look very different. And stage make-up is a whole new set of rules. It took about three emails and three personal conferences to establish that my problem is I lack both confidence and competence.
So, I’m costuming. And Pattie remains un-pregnant.
Now, Stagecrafters has a big barn plus an attic filled with old costumes crammed together. True to theater tradition, we always check what we have before we buy anything new.
So, OK. While I searched the clouds in my mind looking for inspiration, my colleagues began, as they have learned to do, by ascertaining which actors wear underwear. Some don’t. In the words of one, “I want to be free-e-e-e-e on-stage!” Okie-dokie. Underwear, or the lack thereof, can make a big difference in costuming, certainly in how much privacy an actor gets in the dressing room.
Pattie does wear underwear, I find out.
Next: create a pregnancy belly for Pattie. We found a belly in the costume barn that had been used in another play, but it didn’t look pregnant enough, and in fact, had been used for a man’s beer belly. Then we tried a bustle-turned-around-to-the-front from a different play, but that looked silly, too.
“Pattie, could you go home and get pregnant tonight?” someone asked the actress. She promised to try.
“In the meantime, Jan, could you take charge of the belly?”
Of course I could. I ripped open a few extra pillows and stuffed the beer belly with more and more fiberfill. When we tried on the result, Pattie looked as if she were going to give birth to a battleship. A very lumpy battleship. Even punching the stuffing around didn’t help.
Someone walked into the belly try-on, looked at the battleship and said crabbily before he (or she) said hello, “That’s no good; you’re never pregnant out farther than your breasts.”
“I’ll work on it,” I promised.
I don’t know if there was a full moon the “night of the belly,” but I bet there was. Backstage, rehearsal was leaking. Yaga Brady, director of Stagecrafters and producer of “Kimberly Akimbo,” walked in and said, “I just dropped Steve (her husband and co-producer) at the Emergency Room.”
Her statement was temporarily lost in all the other sound waves floating around backstage. “Wait a minute, Yaga. Did you just say you took Steve to the Emergency Room?”
She nodded. “Why are you here? Go back to the Emergency Room! We can handle rehearsal without you for tonight!” Eventually she left, but it took some convincing.
The actors were still trying to find their New Jersey accents; the play takes place in Bogota, New Jersey. The Make-Up Director was backstage, trying to teach people how to age Kimberly from age 16 to age 70. Kimberly has progeria, an extremely rare genetic condition wherein symptoms resembling aspects of aging are manifested at an early age.
“It’s very hard to age someone for the stage,” she said. Poor Make-Up Director was basically talking to herself.
Back at home I realized I’m not a pod person. I grew up on this planet, and I know how to get things done: eBay, pregnancy belly, $12.99. Buy It Now, done. Five minutes, click, click, click, problem solved.
Back at the theater several nights later, everything seemed more normal, or at least hopeful. Stagecrafters had found two people to do make-up. The belly arrived from eBay and looked great. New Jersey accents were blossoming on-stage. Steve Brady was not only out of the hospital, but walking around the grounds at Stagecrafters, picking up litter.
I sat upstairs in the dressing room with Costume Director Joan Blake, altering pants. I turned on the speaker that pipes the stage sounds into the dressing room, so that actors can listen for their cues if they are upstairs. Joan and I, under a dry roof, listened to the rehearsal of this loony, funny, sad play on stage, heard the pouring rain and sewed companionably. Moving the show along toward opening night. What a lovely way to spend a rainy summer night.
“Kimberly Akimbo” is a terrific play, after which you will be very happy to go back to your own family, who will seem remarkably normal to you.
For more information about “Kimberly Akimbo” at The Stagecrafters, 8130 Germantown Ave., call 215-247-8881 or visit www.thestagecrafters.org.