‘Green Bird’ costume designer a feather in Constellation’s cap

Kendra Rai/Courtesy Constellation Theatre - Costume renderings for Constellation Theatre's "The Green Bird" by costume designer Kendra Rai.

Constellation Theatre Company knows how to light up the stage with outlandish design elements. The group’s 2008 incarnation of Brecht’s fantastical “The Good Woman of Setzuan” drew inspiration from Chinese opera, while peacock feather-bedecked Furies proved a stunning addition to the company’s “Oresteia.”

But even by Constellation standards, its latest production,“The Green Bird,” promises vibrant fireworks, thanks to costume designer Kendra Rai, whose work on the company’s epic “The Ramayana” was praised by Washington Post theater critic Celia Wren as sumptuous and ingenious.

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“She has an amazing imagination,” says artistic director Allison Stockman, “so it’s been fun to let her run a little wild with this one.”

“The Green Bird,” Rai’s fourth foray into Constellation’s world, is Carlo Gozzi’s 18th-century commedia dell’arte fairy tale about a couple of orphans, unwitting royalty, who were cast out of the kingdom at birth by their evil grandmother. Their mother, who the lovelorn king believes is dead, was also exiled. It sounds relatively straightforward before taking into account a singing apple tree, a talking bird and a living statuary.

“ ‘The Green Bird’ is very appealing in its mix of comedy and fantasy,” Stockman says. “It’s got room for a lot of visionary design elements in terms of the visual world of the play.”

Rai says the inspiration for the more than 20 costumes came, in part, from Cirque du Soleil and how the circus group transforms human bodies into something else entirely. She envisioned a gluttonous sausage-maker as a giant ball, while the evil queen was spiky, like a medieval mace. In short, her visions were grand, even by set designer A.J. Guban’s standards.

“When I brought in my [sketches], he said, ‘Woah, okay, this is crazy,’ ” Rai says. “And we realized right away that’s what we wanted the show to be, but because of money he said, ‘Why don’t we do a minimal set?’ ”

Even with a bare-bones space, the spectacle extends beyond its costumes, which include outfits with strings of lights sewn into their seams.

“We have these performers who are wonderful; they are all acrobats, fight choreographers, dancers, people that know how to tumble,” Rai says. “They’re not strictly actors.”

The fairly open set allows for movement so that performers such as Matt Wilson, who plays the sausage-maker, can make the most of his costume — a yoga ball for a stomach, on which he bounces around the stage.

Musician Tom Teasley, who recently won a Helen Hayes Award for sound design for “The Ramayana,” will be situated in an aerie of sorts, playing otherworldly music in a nest six feet above the stage.

It adds up to a surreal mood and a creative boon for everyone from the actors to the sound team to the designers. And Rai will be able to expose an older audience to similar work she has done for children’s shows at Imagination Stage and Adventure Theatre.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” she says. “Because I did have to keep that adult perspective in mind . . . it was more about what’s fun for adults.”

The Green Bird

Through June 4. Source, 1835 14th St. NW. 800-494-8497. www.constellationtheatre.org. $25-$30. Pay-what-you-can Friday.

 
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