It’s hard to be a recognizable Michele Bachmann since she wears vividly colored power-suits like so many Washington women.
“Wait, how about Herman Cain?” asked Eric Schaeffer, the Signature Theatre co-founder and artistic director, thinking bigger than the expected pizza boxes and black-walnut ice cream tubs. “He could have three curtains on his chest. Behind each curtain is a nine.” Or do his viral-video-famous aide Mark Block, suggested Mark Rozzo, an editor at Town and Country magazine in New York: “Bad eyeglasses, mustache and cigarette. Done!”
This city is known for twisting difficult concepts into an entire semiotics study of visual cues. Unemployment was hailed through the donning of pink slips from Victoria’s Secret. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving’s contributions during the fiscal crisis was celebrated through Monopoly money costumes.
But how does one depict a debt ceiling? Or American exceptionalism?
“I have to pass on that,” Schaeffer said. Arab Spring? “These are hard ones.” Buffett tax? “You can cover yourself in dollar bills and have the Buffett glasses on. Like a mummy.”
Hearing the names Steve Jobs and Elizabeth Taylor, Schaeffer threw up his hands. “Because they’re dead people and it’s too soon, and you can’t embrace them and salute them at Halloween,” he said, noting that he has switched his annual Halloween party to Christmas this year. “This is why I don’t dress up for Halloween. I put a witch hat on and get a cocktail in your hand, and that’s enough.”
In years past, political figures have been known to dress up as a sexy cat (Michelle Obama) or a non-sexy Underdog (Al Gore). The man whom Christine O’Donnell defeated in the GOP primary, then-Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, turned some heads on Capitol Hill by donning a convincing Frankenstein costume. In 2008, puckish political reporters teased the GOP ticket they were following by sporting baseball jerseys that read “Major League A’s” on the front and “Big Time” on the back, in tribute to Dick Cheney and George W. Bush’s live-mike slam of a Fourth Estater.
Going wonky and witty at the same time is another of those classic Washingtonian bargains, where one false note could tip the balance. Will any yoga-themed costume arouse uncomfortable feelings about the Lululemon killing? Is it appropriate to let a child dress as Michael Jackson’s doctor?
And what if clever curdles? Celebrants, who requested anonymity so as not to be excluded from future guest lists, reported costumes such as Twitter dashboards, fuzzy math, soft money, Harriet Miers, “General Betray-us,” the War on Christmas. Suffice it to say that each was rather involved. Crudites at one death-themed party a few years back were called “Persistent Vegetative Plate.” A fur-draped woman dragging baby dolls from her heels was No Child Left Behind. One “Cloudy With a Chance of Showers” actually ran into another, in a Halloween perfect storm.
In the end, there’s a standby mask that is both recognizable and available. “Nixon’s always a seller for some reason,” said Duraes, of Backstage. “He’s like a werewolf.”