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Haute hats take the stage of Gallathea at Davis

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The costume design of Liz Galindo can be seen in recent blockbuster hits such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “There Will Be Blood.” Now they can also be seen at UC Davis, for a limited time, while the play “Gallathea” runs through Nov. 20.

“Gallathea” director Peter Lichtenfels said the comedic play is nothing short of delightful, with comic themes and exquisite headdresses.

“I think people should see it because it’s a comedy and the subject matter is extraordinary,” Lichtenfels said. “It’s two women finding each other as men, but they’re women and falling in love and being able to marry, and that’s like 425 years ago.”

The play was written about 10 or 15 years before Shakespeare wrote his first play, and Shakespeare borrowed a lot of material from this particular play for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Set in Lincolnshire in northeast England, the townspeople are faced with sacrificing their most beautiful virgin to Neptune once every five years. As the play starts, it’s a day before this event is to happen, and two fathers bring their daughters to the spot where the sacrifice is to take place.

The daughters are dressed as boys, expecting to fool Neptune and avoid death. The fathers then independently send their daughters into the forest.

“The daughters don’t know how to act as boys, trying to figure out how not to give themselves away, because the whole cross-dressing thing was completely new,” Lichtenfels said.

“So they see each other and think, ‘Oh, I’m going to learn from this boy how to be a boy, but if only he knew I was a girl,’” he said. “And so in that way and in that time, there’s the pressure of the sacrifice and is Neptune going to find them and sacrifice one of them, so they can never be together.”

A tale of forbidden love and gender-bending, the costumes play a large role in the depiction of the characters, which is where Galindo’s design skills come into action.

“I’ve known Liz for at least seven or eight years now,” Lichtenfels said. “I knew I wanted to work with [her] and here we are.”

He maintains that the headdresses are extraordinary, but they also have a very practical function.

“Through the uniqueness of each headdress, you can certainly identify the character,” he said. “And so many actors play multiple characters that it’s the way of keeping tabs on who’s playing what at any one time.”

Although, even as a Ph.D. candidate at UC Davis, Galindo has never done hat design before, her favorite part of designing for “Gallathea” was the creation of the hats, in addition to learning how to use a glue gun properly.

“It’s interesting, having to make things that are a lot bigger so that people in the far back of the theater can somewhat see what the detail is,” she said. “On film it’s a lot different because they are close up, so you really have to make sure that the detail is very specific, while in theater you just have to make it bigger and grander.”

With this in mind, most of the design elements of the costumes were focused on the hats, where Galindo drew inspiration from haute couture designer Philip Tracy, whose headwear can be seen on “Project Runway.”

“I got a lot of inspiration from him, and I have a collection of his hats of my own,” she said.

Still, coming up with the designs was no easy task.

“I read the script about seven or eight times, and since this was in Old English it was a new process for me,” she said. “I’d never worked in Elizabethan theater before, so it took a little longer for me to understand who the characters were. But after the process of reading the script over eight times, I decided to take each character and kind of go in my mind and think about how they would shop for themselves and how they would want to look.”

But besides the material from the script and Lichtenfels’ point of view, Galindo created the costume designs from scratch.

“The themes that I used were mostly puns and comical themes on each of the characters,” she said. “The fairies each have a name, and each name represents an aspect of the environment. One was Tulusa and she was the Earth, so she had two little globes and a feather on her, and one was Aurora, who was more the exotic with the flowers on her head, and then there’s one with twigs all over her and she’s the goddess of means and twigs.”

The most challenging part of the whole thing?

“Designing for a contemporary play,” she said. “I am used to designing for historical films.

“I approach each opportunity with a smile and as a learning experience,” she said. “Any time I do any project it’s always a learning experience.”

Thankfully she didn’t have to do it entirely on her own.

The UC Davis Costume shop, run by Roxanne Femling, provided a team of designers and students to help her with the workload. Galindo said she could not have done it without their help.

To purchase tickets, call (530) 754-2787 or click here.

Ticket prices are $17/$19 for general admission and $12/$14 for students, children and seniors.

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