An 18th Century Period Play

This weekend I’m going to see the play Urania – The Life of Émilie Du Châtelet. Émilie Du Châtelet was a physicist, mathematician, and author who lived in France during the first half of the 18th century. She became a friend, lover, and collaborator with Voltaire. I know very little about Émilie, but that is not surprising. Few women from this period ever received recognition for their achievements and contributions.

My friend Katy Werlin is one of the actresses in Urania (seen in the first photo on the far left), so I am excited to see her performance. She’s a fashion historian, and she designed the costumes for the show. Katy is an incredible dressmaker. She makes 18th century dresses using period techniques in her spare time. I asked her to send over some images from Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, because I knew the costumes were going to be good.

The light blue robe à la française that the character Émilie wears is from Katy’s personal wardrobe. It was sewn almost entirely by hand. The rest of the costumes were made specifically for the show. Katy was assisted by Andrea Young, who plays Marguerite.

Urania was written by Jyl Bonaguro, is based on a biography by Judith P. Zinsser, and is directed by Eileen Tull. It runs this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 at the Hilton Asmus Contemporary. Unfortunately the show is currently sold out, but there is a wait list in case you want to try to see it for yourself.

Aren’t the costumes great? I can’t wait!

photos by Eileen Tull, director

Mr. Selfridge Is Back

Are you watching Mr. Selfridge? In the United States, PBS just started season two, and I’m thoroughly sucked in. It’s basically a period soap opera, akin the Downton Abbey, but set in the city instead of the country.

If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Selfridge, it’s about the London department store. Season one introduced us the American Harry Selfridge as he moves to London in 1908, butts heads with the British over his revolutionary retail concepts, and unveils his concept of modernity. Feminism, the emergence of makeup, and various celebrities both real and fictional are all key plot points.

The show relies on an ensemble cast full of amusing characters. There’s a little bit of an upstairs/downstairs theme going on. First you have the lowly shop girl who has ambition and a spark of creativity with her brother who works in the loading dock. The store’s management features heavily, including the Frenchman who is in charge of window displays and the chief of staff who is in a complicated romantic relationship with the head of accessories. And then you have the rich who shop at the store, financially back it, and socialize with Selfridge’s family.

And the costumes — well the costumes are great. They aren’t 100% historically accurate, but the show is a bit of a fantasy and over the top, so, appropriately, the costumes are too. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to give this show a pass, but somehow it works for me.

Season two jumps to 1914, advancing many of the characters’ lives in interesting directions. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I love how they are developing the story line. War is on the horizon, and trade unions are rising. And the relationships between the characters are all deepening. Everyone reaps what they sow from the previous season, both for better and worse.

If you need to catch up, season one is available on Amazon Instant Video (free if you have a Prime account!) or on iTunes. And PBS is only two episodes deep into season two, which is available on its website.

Tell me if you are watching! Who is your favorite character? Personally Agnes Towler and Henri Leclair were my favorites in season one, but I’ve got a growing affection for Kitty and Gordon Selfridge in season two.

P.S. No spoilers in the comments please!