Till We Have Faces – Arena Theater

till we have faces arena theater
Orual and the Queen; Psyche (background)

I’ve been working in the costume shop of a magical little place called Arena Theater since 2012. I started working there because I wanted to improve my tailoring skills and gain access to sewing machines for, ahem, personal use (how else would I redeem my often ill-fitting thrift store finds?). While both of those things certainly happened, perhaps a more exciting by-product of my time spent in the costume shop has been a growing ability to see clothing as a form of communication and a medium for storytelling.

I’ve been especially struck by this particular function of clothing in the last few months. This weekend was opening night for Arena Theater’s fall show, Till We Have Faces, which is based on C.S. Lewis’ re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Though many plays utilize costuming to enrich the viewing experience and advance the story, Till We Have Faces presents a particularly strong example.

Here’s a little exploration through pictures of some of my favorite costuming moments in Arena Theater’s rendition of Till We Have Faces.

SPOILER ALERT: If you live in the Chicagoland area and are going to get a chance to see this show, be warned! It might be better to come back to this post after you’ve watched the play.

Sisters Orual and Redival
Sisters Orual and Redival in their royal garb
till we have faces arena theater
The protagonist, Queen Orual of Glome (foreground) and young Orual (background). The veil becomes one of the most important symbols in the play, and is used to explore ugliness, beauty, self-loathing and identity.
The King of Glome
The King of Glome wears my favorite costume in the show, even though he’s a terrible person. His harsh comments about Orual’s ugliness help shape her inner narrative about herself.

King: (Seeing Orual in her veil) Now, girl, what’s this? Hung your curtains up, eh? Were you afraid we’d be dazzled by your beauty? Take off that frippery!

Orual: It’s hard if I’m to be scolded both for my face and for hiding it.

King: (quietly, but with force) Come here. (Orual crosses to him, and they are face to face.Do you begin to set your wits against mine?

Orual: Yes. (They stare at each other for the count of seven. Then the King shrugs.)

King: Oh, you’re like all women. You’d talk the moon out of the sky if a man’d listen to you. (King exits.)

Orual: (crossing to join Queen) He never struck me… And I never feared him again.

till we have faces arena theater
Orual and the Queen are actually older and younger versions of the same character. In this scene, the Queen veils Orual for the first time, an act loaded with symbolic significance.

Queen: I now determined I would always wear a veil. (She puts the veil on Orual).

Orual: It is a sort of treaty made with my ugliness.

Orual and Psyche
Here, Psyche appears almost angelic in her flowing, light robe, which stands in contrast to the distressed, dark garb of the other citizens of Glome.

Orual: Somehow, Psyche made beauty all round her. When she trod on mud, the mud was beautiful, when she picked up a toad—she had the strangest love for all manner of brutes—the toad became beautiful.

till we have faces arena theater priest of unfit
The Priest serves a mysterious, ugly and bloodthirsty goddess called Ungit. He and his attendants (background) invoke a similar kind of fearful awe to that demanded by their goddess.

Priest: Holy places are dark places. It is not knowledge and words that we get in them. It is life and strength. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.

till we have faces arena theater
Psyche being presented in ceremonial garb as a sacrifice to Ungit

Orual: It was not enough for the gods to… take her from me, they must take her from me three times over, tear out my heart three times. First her sentence; then her strange cold talk in the room; and now this painted and gilded horror to poison my last sight of her.

till we have faces arena theater
The Priestess of Istra later stands in for the assembly of gods before whom the Queen goes to make her complaint.

Orual: (After making her complaint) Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll know well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer.

till we have faces arena theater
Orual and Bardia preparing to journey to the Gray Mountain

(Okay, so these capes don’t do much symbolically and don’t much further the story, other than to remind us that Orual and Bardia are traveling outside—but I love them so much that I couldn’t help but include them. I WANT ONE).

till we have faces arena theater
Orual and Bardia removing her armor after Orual’s first duel. He notes after he first begins teaching her to fence that her feminine clothing might be inhibitive to her ability to fight.

Orual: Soon Bardia was teaching me to ride on horseback as well as to fence with the sword.

Queen: He used me, and talked to me, more and more like a man.

Orual: And this both grieved—

Queen: (sharply to Orual) —and pleased me.

till we have faces arena theater
Orual and the Fox, the beloved servant that she calls “grandfather.” He helps her don this dress when she steps into her role as Queen after her father’s death.
till we have faces arena theater
Orual, grappling with her possible connection to the much-loathed Ungit.

Orual: I! I was Ungit! That ruinous face was mine. I, that all-devouring, womb-like yet barren thing. Glome was the web; I was the swollen spider, squat at its center, gorged with men’s stolen lives.

till we have faces arena theater psyche oral
Psyche and Orual at the end of the show

Psyche: Did I not tell you that a day was coming when you and I would meet in my house and no cloud between us?

A big shout-out to costume designer Jeremy Floyd for providing the vision behind the magic, and to Heidi Elliott for being instrumental in the realization of that vision.

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