WIP: “The Sugar Witch” Costuming

The Bean family homestead – setting for “The Sugar Witch”

“The Sugar Witch” by Nathan Sanders, the second show of the season for The Suffield Players, opens tonight. It’s a Southern gothic drama, set in the Florida swamps and focusing on the Bean family, who have been under a curse for the last several generations. Once the wealthiest family in the town of Sugar Bean, they are now represented only by Moses and Sisser, brother and sister and the last of the Beans.

Moses comes home from his job at the local Texaco, bringing Sisser’s favorite Little Debbie snack cakes

Sisser, a woman in her thirties, has the affect of a child. All of her clothes are made by Annabelle, the last of the Sugar Witches, who lives with the family. At the play’s opening, she is sitting on the porch in her wheelchair on a hot summer afternoon. I put her in a simple denim colored sleeveless dress with a floral short-sleeved shirt under it. When we realized that the dress was going to be too short with her seated, I made her the ruffled petticoat that she wears under each of her costumes.

Moses works at the local Texaco station. Here’s his entrance in mechanic’s coveralls with a “Moses” name patch (written in red Sharpie on white felt) and a Texaco patch I found on ebay. I would have dirtied up the coveralls with some oil stains, but they are rented and I didn’t want to do any costume distressing that I couldn’t undo.

Ruthanne Meeks, looking for Moses and trouble

The play starts with Ruthanne Meeks coming looking for Moses. She’s a not-particularly-bright local woman who is “fixing to be baptized tomorrow” and has one last night to “do something sinful.” She tells us that her dress belonged to her Great-Grandmother Meeks. The script notes describe it as a 1940’s style, but I went with this one from the Players’ costume collection, which has a mid-1930’s silhouette and a print which could have faded from its earlier, brighter colors. I envision this as the “Sunday go to meeting” dress of the last four generations of Meeks women. Ruthanne has gaudy tastes, as evidenced by her glittery blue hairbow (the ribbon shed glitter everywhere when I made up the bow) and her pink handbag decorated in sequins and beads. I found the handbag at a local thrift shop. It is every 4-year-old girl’s idea of The Perfect Pocketbook.

Annabelle, the Sugar Witch

Ruthanne is soon met by Annabelle, who lives with the family. She is the local conjure-woman, making cures, alcohol, and love potions from the swamp plants and sugar cane. I wanted her in simple, loose clothing that she could wear both to work around the house and into the swamps to collect plants for her potions. The shirt and pants were originally white and tan respectively, but I dyed them with two different concentrations of a reddish-brown. The actress found the medicine bag that she wears around her neck. The headscarf is the scarf I originally made for the psychic in “Ghost of a Chance” last October. The director saw it sitting around the theater and liked it as a way to add color to Annabelle’s costume, so we repurposed it.

I wanted a small detail of her clothing to be a nod to her ancestry and her unique status as a healer/shaman/wise woman. I had originally thought to use an African print headscarf but, since she describes herself as growing up on the “Indian Islands,” we decided that she had some Seminole or Black Seminole ancestry. That made me think of Seminole patchwork, which we used as a decorative element on her shirt. Two seamstresses who volunteer with the theater made up a couple of yards of the patchwork for me (thanks, Sandy and Robin!), then I bleached it to look sun-faded and sewed it onto the shirt as an applique. I had originally planned to use it as a horizontal band around the bottom, but it looked better as two vertical strips down front and that gives it an allusion to a Christian minister’s ecclesiastical stole.

Annabelle’s Seminole patchwork applique before and after bleach.

Hank, the show’s “gentleman caller,” with Moses

Moses tells Annabelle that he has invited Hank Hartley to dinner. Hank grew up in the town and has been away for years, but recently returned to work in the family’s funeral parlor. He brings the hearse into the Texaco for repairs, and he and Moses have struck up a friendship. Since Hank is the only character in the play who isn’t dirt poor, I put him in a slightly nicer quality shirt and pants. I gave him the snazzy red braces since he is the show’s “gentleman caller” and might have come courting. Moses has changed out of his work clothes into a dark blue shirt and a pair of faded jeans which I figured was about as dressed up as he could get given the family’s poverty.

“You touch dead people with them hands?” Sisser meets Hank.

Sisser has put on one of her nicer dresses to meet their dinner company. It’s still a simple (and girlish) jumper and shirt, with her petticoat’s ruffle showing at the hem. I bought this jumper for her when I found it in a thrift shop because of the girlish look, but soon afterward realized that it was also a blood red. There is an act of violence later in the play associated with Sisser, and I liked the idea of foreshadowing it with the red dress.

Granddaddy Meeks looking for his dinner and Ruthanne, in that order

Ruthanne’s Granddaddy Meeks shows up in act 2 looking for her. As with Annabelle, he is in old and faded work clothes that he has probably owned for years. Here’s a link to the blog post where I describe the work we did distressing his costume. The costume includes a pair of stained, putty-colored pants, but the actor wasn’t wearing them on the night I shot these photos.

Sisser going off to be baptized in the Watchalahoochie River

Sisser’s third costume of the show is the white dress she is wearing when she goes off with Moses to be baptized in the nearby river. The script notes describe her as looking like a bride. The actress had a wedding dress which she had previously used as a costume, and my director liked the over-the-top nature of it, so that’s what we went with. He also wanted her to have a First Communion type veil, so I made one by gathering a couple of yards of tulle netting onto a ribbon and sewing it to a headband.

Bonus photo: Flying Cat reveal

One of the supernatural elements of the script is the flying cats, which inhabit the swamp next to the house. Here’s Annabelle showing Hank one that her grandmother caught and stuffed.

“The Sugar Witch” by Nathan Sanders will be performed at The Suffield Players, Mapleton Hall, Suffield, CT on February 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 8 pm and on February 17 at 2 pm. Tickets and futher information at www.suffieldplayers.org



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