Day of the Dead theme lends brilliant color to Cocteau’s darkly comic play, “Orpheus”
When the University of Toledo Department of Theatre and Film season opens on Friday, October 12 with Jean Cocteau’s darkly comic play “Orpheus,” it will do so in surprisingly brilliant color. Director Jessica Bonenfant and costume designer Erica Frank have chosen to use a Dia de los Muertos (Day-of-the-Dead) aesthetic to represent the invitation of the dead into the world of the living.
“Orpheus” is Cocteau’s surrealist reworking of the classical myth. Orpheus, a poet, makes an impossible deal with Death to rescue his love, Eurydice, from the underworld: he promises never to look upon her again. A mirror serves as portal between life and death, and movement between the realms is characterized by distinct shifts in color, costume and atmosphere. Cocteau also explores contact with the spirit-world by adding a table rapping horse to the mix.
“The play takes place in the liminal space between magic and reality, where anything can happen,” says Jessica Bonenfant, creative director of Lola Lola Dance Theatre in New York, who is the guest director for the UT production of “Orpheus.”
Both Bonenfant and Frank were intrigued by Frida Kahlo de Rivera, known for her self-portraits and her colorful clothing. Her style as well as traditional Day–of-the-Dead celebrations have served as a kind of muse for the costume design. Flowers, elaborate grave decorations, lavish costumes, food and festivities traditionally mark the Mexican Day of the Dead, similar to All Souls Day, which remembers loved ones who died during the year.
In the play, Death – a young woman adorned with pink flowers, ribbons and paint, visits the living world. “The costuming, skeletons and funeral flowers associated with Day of the Dead are the perfect way for her to fit into and hide out in our world while also being very ethereal,” says Frank.
Bonenfant adds that Frank’s design reflects the fact that “Cocteau’s work uses surrealism to alter the audience’s perceptions of time and reality, yet maintains a narrative that is easy to follow.”
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