Backstage: Pinky Swear’s ‘Bondage’; ‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit; a Signature ‘Sunday’

November 12, 2013

Liz Gossens, costume designer for Pinky Swear Productions’ “Bondage,” had a predicament. She needed to cover the two actors — one male, one female — in head-to-toe bondage gear. “We really don’t want to know who they are,” she said. “That’s really the crux of the play.”

As you can probably imagine, these actors also need to be able to do all kinds of typical actor things — talking, say, and also moving, and seeing — and some not-so-typical actor things. Just the sort of usual activities you might find yourself engaging in, should you ever find yourself in an S&M parlor as either a dominatrix or a client, as these two characters do.

Gossens did a lot of research and eventually turned directly to the BDSM “subreddit,” or forum on the Reddit Web site. The first response she got, she said, “was fantastic, and that was zentai suits. They’re kind of growing in popularity.” Ever seen “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”? Think of Green Man. That’s a zentai suit. The “Bondage” suits are made of a lycra-spandex blend. Gossens had customized hoods with mesh coverings over the eyes, so actors could see without being seen.

Apparently in bondage, as in life, “It was just a lot about accessorizing,” Gossens said. Challenge: “Authentic fetish clothing and accessories are really expensive” because they’re made of leather.

Sarah Conte, the technician, artisan and stage manager, came on board after two years of trying to work with Pinky Swear. She was so eager to be a part of the creative team, she said, “I jumped at that. Maybe a little too quickly.”

“It’s an interesting script,” she said. “The title is obviously very loud and says a lot. When you read it, it’s really about so much more.”

Conte oversees the props, where she ran into the same financial challenges as Gossens. “One of the first things Allyson [Harkey, co-artistic director] wanted was a kind of whip called a cat-o’-nine-tails. It kind of looks like a cheerleader’s pompom, but made out of leather. They’re very, very expensive. A good one starts at $150. . . . But for $20 of fake leather and toy nunchucks from the Halloween store, we were able to make a fairly convincing cat-o’-nine-tails.”

Fortunately for Conte, she was working during Halloween costume shopping season: “It really played in our favor because we were able to get kind of odd stuff.”

The one-act show “will make you think about regular interactions in a different way, even though it takes place in a bondage parlor,” Gossens said. “Good theater should make you feel a little bit uncomfortable and should get you out of your comfort zone.”

“I initially wanted this play to be fun and sexy and risque, and it is not that,” Gossens said. “It’s fantastic theater [but] this isn’t ‘Cabaret.’ . . . It’s a real thinking piece that happens to take place in a bondage parlor on the outskirts of L.A.”

Through Nov. 23 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE. Call 703-338-7522­ or go to www.­pinkyswear-productions.com.

A whole new world

There’s not a whole lot that Theater Alliance artistic director Colin Hovde can tell you about “White Rabbit Red Rabbit.” Whatever play you’re going to see, he hasn’t really seen it yet.

How it works: Hovde welcomes the audience to the show. He hands an actor, who will perform this show only once, a sealed envelope with the “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” script inside. The actor goes from there, cold. That’s it. No director, no set. The actor is forbidden from doing any research or reading the script in advance.

Hovde was in Canada at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival when he saw “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” for the first time. “I was just blown away,” he said.

The play — having exactly one cast member, virtually no crew and zero rehearsal time — is not the world’s most expensive show to stage. “This is easy to produce,” Hovde said. But he says the dialogue around the play — talk-backs follow every performance and can often be longer than the one-hour play — is what he enjoys the most. “It’s about the relationship between the audience and the performer,” he said, adding that the house lights “are up the entire time,” so the actor has just as good a view of the audience as the audience does of the actor.

“Because the actor is experiencing it for the very first time, and there’s no rehearsal, we’re all on a level playing field and we all have no idea what we’re getting into,” he said.

The first seven performances of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” were split between the Anacostia Playhouse and the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. After January, it will travel to other theaters around the D.C. area (specific locations will be announced early next month, Hovde said).

“The piece touches on an undercurrent of how we live our lives, the decisions that we make, and the repercussions for those decisions,” Hovde said.

The script, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, deals with a young man in Tehran who is not allowed to leave his country. “It’s able to connect us, in a way, to a global community,” Hovde said. “And to show us how close we are and how similar other people’s lives.”

Through Dec. 15, additional dates TBA. Call 202-241-2539 or go to www.theateralliance.com.

Signature’s ‘Sunday in the Park’

“I’m so ready to direct a Sondheim,” said Matthew Gardiner, Signature Theatre’s associate artistic director. He paused. “I don’t know that I actually am! Someone else will have to decide if I’m any good at it.”

Typically it’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer who helms the Sondheim productions at Signature, but for the first show of Signature’s upcoming 25th-anniversary season, “Sunday in the Park With George,” Gardiner said Schaeffer told him, “ ‘I really want you to do it.’ ”

Gardiner, a self-proclaimed “Sondheim fanatic,” swears that “I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever said to Eric, ‘Just let me direct Sondheim.’ Because that, to me, in the musical theater world, feels like a rite of passage. [Sondheim’s] work is so complicated and complex, and why would you trust that I could handle that yet? I think I’m ready, and hopefully I am.”

Gardiner, 29, who grew up watching DVDs — “wait, actually, they were probably VHS tapes” — of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in “Sunday,” hopes to have his full cast assembled “within the next couple of months” and says most of the roles have already been cast.

“I have no intention of doing a carbon copy of the James Lapine production,” said Gardiner. “But I have no intention of completely reinventing ‘Sunday in the Park With George.’ ”

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