Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco
Directed by Neil Blackadder
Costume Design: Allison Smith
Photos courtesy of Craig Choma and John Williams
Since Eugene Ionesco does not indicate one specific time period for Exit the King, we decided as a design team to convey Berenger’s 400 years of life in a kind of collage—a cohesive blending of recognizable artistic styles from different eras in time.
To create this collage within costumes I chose iconic images and line qualities to convey the royal characters’ personalities. We see the strict, sharper geometric lines of the sixteenth century and Victorian era for Marguerite, Berenger’s first wife, who works to keep him solidly rooted in reality and reminds him of the imminence of his death. Contrastingly, his second wife Marie, is characterized by the soft, feminine, airy qualities of eighteenth century France and the Edwardian period, as she attempts to distract Berenger from the thought of his death, urging him to live in the moment. Berenger himself wears a pair of red striped, one-piece pajamas—a visual combination of nineteenth century men’s underwear, the “union suit”, and the luxury of men’s striped silk pajamas from the 1920’s. This silhouette becomes exceedingly youthful on a grown man who is dying, acting as a reminder of the life cycle and Ionesco’s idealism of youth. Over this we see a man’s coat reminiscent of the 18th century France, especially the court of Louis XIV—arguably among the most opulent of rulers in history. Worn in the context of a dressing gown, however, it becomes another indication of how Berenger’s rule and reality has decayed.
The other characters that support the world we see—the Doctor, Juliette, the Guard—are a blend of the emblematic uniforms of their office from several time periods. As a whole, the temporally blended facets of the characters act as a reminder that the struggle to face our death is one that we share with every human being throughout time.