Feeling Crafty

Fishtown's Mary Fo­lino helps get act­ors in char­ac­ter as cos­tume de­sign­er for Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at the Wal­nut Street Theatre.

The cur­rent show at the Wal­nut Street Theatre — based on Agatha Christie’s clas­sic thrill­er The Mousetrap — is touted as the world’s longest-run­ning play.

This year marks its 60th an­niversary.

To cel­eb­rate that mile­stone, Mousetrap Pro­duc­tions has li­censed 60 world­wide pro­duc­tions of this re­cord-break­ing mys­tery, and the Wal­nut Street Theatre is among them.

Pre­views began Tues­day, Jan. 17, and the of­fi­cial open­ing is Jan. 25.

Mary Fo­lino, of Fishtown, will be in the audi­ence for all the pre­views — but not as a typ­ic­al audi­ence mem­ber. In­stead, she’ll fo­cus al­most en­tirely on the cos­tumes worn by the act­ors, and she’ll be tak­ing notes as she watches.

As cos­tume de­sign­er for the show, she’s re­spons­ible for every de­tail of all the cos­tumes — from shoes to clothes to wigs.

Her in­terest in this spe­cialty began when she at­ten­ded the Uni­versity of Delaware, ma­jor­ing in theat­er pro­duc­tion. While there, she worked in the cos­tume shop of the gradu­ate theat­er de­part­ment. Al­though in earli­er years the Pennsauken, N.J., nat­ive had en­joyed act­ing, she found her niche be­hind the scenes, work­ing on cos­tumes.

“Cos­tumes give the audi­ence in­form­a­tion about the char­ac­ters be­fore they even speak,” she says. “And they help define their per­son­al­it­ies, just as any­one’s clothes do.”

Right after col­lege, in 2001, she landed a job as an ap­pren­tice in the Wal­nut Street Theatre cos­tume shop.

“I was thrilled,” she re­calls. “This is one of the largest theat­ers in the city, and I knew I could work on some big pro­duc­tions.”

Soon she was pro­moted to as­sist­ant cos­tume shop man­ager, a po­s­i­tion she still holds.

Dur­ing her 10 years with the Wal­nut, she worked on more than 100 pro­duc­tions, either as an as­sist­ant or as the chief cos­tume de­sign­er, as she is with The Mousetrap.

Pre­views are her last chance to do any fine-tun­ing of the 13 cos­tumes she de­signed from start to fin­ish.

Her role began when she read the script for The Mousetrap. The play is set in Eng­land dur­ing the winter of 1952.

“I was ex­cited that it was a peri­od piece be­cause peri­od cos­tumes are my fa­vor­ites,” said Fo­lino.

Then came con­sulta­tions with dir­ect­or Mal­colm Black and the de­sign­ers for the set, sound and light­ing, since all their ideas have to mesh.

Next, he drew sketches for the cos­tumes as she en­vi­sioned them. They in­cluded designs for a suit, a heavy wool dress, a tweed pant­suit — all very sub­dued.

“They wouldn’t be fash­ion­able today,” says Fo­lino. “They’re sup­posed to re­flect these very prop­er Eng­lish people.”

The next step was a hop­ping spree as she went look­ing for fab­rics and ac­cessor­ies on South Fourth Street in South Philly, known as ldquo;Fab­ric Row” be­cause of its many fab­ric shops.

She found much of what she needed for these ’50s-era clothes, in­clud­ing wool tweeds and peri­od-look­ing plaids.

She also shopped on eBay.

“I found a num­ber of vin­tage pieces,” she said.

She was es­pe­cially pleased to find two wool coats that ac­tu­ally ori­gin­ated in Lon­don in 1952. She bought eight pairs of shoes on­line. There were also scarves and gloves to as­semble, but they were easy to find.

Wigs are also con­sidered part of the over­all cos­tume, and the three fe­male act­resses wear them on­stage.

“It’s for con­veni­ence,” ex­plained Fo­lino. “That way they have the same hair­style every night and they don’t have to spend time fix­ing their hair. They just put on the wig and they’re ready.”

The cos­tumes for the male act­ors were es­pe­cially chal­len­ging. 

“All five char­ac­ters are mys­ter­i­ous in some way,” said Fo­lino. For in­stance, one of them had to look some­what flam­boy­ant. “But there’s a fine line between keep­ing him ap­pro­pri­ate to the peri­od and let­ting the audi­ence know he’s flam­boy­ant.”

Then there’s the in­spect­or who enters in Act II to try to solve the mys­tery. Be­cause it’s snow­ing out­side, he ac­tu­ally comes in on skis and wears a parka.

Fo­lino is a pur­ist about keep­ing faith­ful to the time peri­od, so she first did re­search and found a re­pro­duc­tion of a parka for that era. Then, on the In­ter­net, she found a brand new parka that was an ac­cur­ate re­pro­duc­tion.

One chal­lenge for all the vin­tage at­tire was find­ing gar­ments or fab­rics that would hold up well for the run of the show. 

“There were some beau­ti­ful gar­ments out there, but they were slightly worn and wouldn’t hold up for eight weeks,” says Fo­lino.

In­stead, he searched for es­pe­cially sturdy fab­rics or vin­tage pieces that were in mint con­di­tion. With all the ma­ter­i­als pur­chased, Fo­lino next set to work su­per­vising the “build­ing” of the cos­tumes, as it’s called. This means cre­at­ing the en­tire cos­tume, many of which were made from scratch.

The pro­cess takes place in the fourth-floor cos­tume shop of the Wal­nut Street Theatre. Two drapers and two stitch­ers set to work build­ing the cos­tumes, with Fo­lino over­see­ing.

Pre­views con­tin­ue un­til the Jan. 25 open­ing night. Fo­lino will be in the audi­ence all week, tak­ing notes so that after each per­form­ance she can make whatever changes are needed.

On open­ing night, he’ll again be in the audi­ence.

“That’s when I can sit back and just en­joy the show,” she says. ••

If you go…

The Mousetrap, at the Wal­nut Street Theatre, 815 Wal­nut St., opens Wed­nes­day, Jan. 25, after pre­views this week. Shows con­tin­ue through March 4. Tick­ets range from $80 to $10, avail­able by call­ing 215-574-3550, or­der­ing on­line at www.wal­nut­streettheatre.org or through Tick­et­mas­ter.

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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