I received an e-mail the other day from Theresa Squire, who designed the costumes for the Keen Company’s revival of A.R. Gurney’s The Living Room, which I praised in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. My review contained the following paragraph:
The Keen Company specializes in performing “sincere” plays: “We believe that theater is at its most powerful when texts and productions are generous in spirit and provoke identification.” As a mission statement, that strikes me as a bit po-faced, but there is nothing stiff or staid about this production, directed and designed with discreet skill by Jonathan Silverstein and Dana Moran Williams….It is a lovely piece of work, and I wholeheartedly commend it to your attention.
Squire pointed out that in giving Dana Moran Williams, the set designer, sole credit for the design of The Living Room, I was overlooking the work of several other professionals, herself among them, who had contributed significantly to the show’s total effect. She was, of course, dead right, and when I looked her up on the Web, I was embarrassed to learn that she’d also designed the costumes for a number of other shows that I’d reviewed favorably in the Journal (including Orson’s Shadow, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Bald Soprano) without ever mentioning her name in print.
Needless to say, a critic can’t mention everybody, and my Journal reviews are often too short for me to cite by name more than two or three people in a given show. To do otherwise would be to turn the review into a laundry list, thus making it unreadable. In addition, I find that good costume and lighting design tend to be self-effacing in a way that set design is not. When the characters in a naturalistically designed play are wearing appropriate clothing, you perceive it as a manifestation of their personalities, not as an independent entity.
That said, I’ll admit that I don’t write nearly often enough about costume design, no doubt because I don’t understand it as well as I should. I know quite a bit more about lighting and sound design, and so am more likely to mention them in a review, just as I’m one of the few critics in New York who not infrequently makes a point of mentioning the playing of the pit orchestras that accompany the musicals I review. Would that I could be all things to all people!
One more thing: the next time I go to a show and find Theresa Squire’s name listed in the program, I’ll know that I’m about to see well-designed costumes that will enhance the credibility of the actors who are wearing them. And I’ll try to remember to say so in the Journal, too.