The Lady from Dubuque is a powerful, forgotten Edward Albee play from 1980 that we were honored to revive for the inaugural season at the Signature Theater’s new space in 2012.
I looked for ways to echo the original period with modern pieces. The cocktail party in the first act had a restrained palette, while in the second more absurd act I let the colors get a little wilder. The hosts Sam and Jo were stylish and minimal in keeping with their sleek modern home (designed by John Arnone). I chose a faded blush silk top and elegant pants reminiscent of Halston’s hostess pajamas in the late 70s for Jo; a dying woman Albee describes as “scented air”. (I'll never forget showing Edward my sketches in his art-filled loft as he demanded admiringly: “How did you know that this is exactly what Jo should wear?”) Edgar and Lucinda, the affluent neighbors, were a tightly connected couple in springtime neutrals, their luxurious pieces underscoring a concern for status. The new couple, Carol and Fred contrasted: Fred an aging frat boy in the blue blazer and khakis uniform of his youth and Carol in the brightest color onstage, a vivid turquoise. I found a jersey dress that moved beautifully on Tricia Paoluccio’s lithe body. Carol is new to the group of friends (and from the humblest background), so the bright color and overt sexiness worked well to set her apart. At the end of the first act, a mysterious couple appears: the title character of the play and her consort. It was a costume designer’s dream to dress Jane Alexander and Peter Frances James; perhaps two of the most elegant people alive! I did them in whispered blues and ethereal silver. Jane researched ancient female death figures, which she discovered were often depicted as birds. I found her a fine cashmere shawl with a graphic feather pattern and the moment when she turned to Jo and opened her shawl in welcome was heart-stopping. The collaboration on this extraordinary production will always be a precious memory and one of the highlights of my career.
By Edward Albee
Director: David Esbjornson
Set Design: John Arnone • Lighting Design: David Lander
Photos: Joan Marcus and Ethan Levitas.