Partners in life and theater: Costume designer Robinson and director Serrecchia on the set of ‘A Minor Case of Murder!’ (Photo courtesy of Pegasus Theatre)
We sit down with mellow power couple Michael Robinson and Michael Serrecchia
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Alexa is playing opera over the Echo while The Michaels — theater director/choreographer Michael Serrecchia and costume designer/actor Michael Robinson — toil away in the kitchen. Dinner will be served shortly; until then, an asparagus frittata and sparkling wine will tide us over until the sauce is ready, the chicken cooked, the fettuccine made fresh by their own hands.
Robinson had just gifted Serrecchia with a pasta maker for Christmas, and they were anxious to try it out. Not that making pasta is new to them; with a name like Serrecchia, you learn early to appreciate Italian food, good wine, the symbolic and practical aspects of cooking… in short, la dolce vita, the good life.
If they weren’t such mellow fellows, The Michaels might be considered a power couple in the North Texas theater scene — Robinson designing costumes (he also runs the Dallas Costume Shoppe) for numerous companies and directors; Serrecchia in demand bringing countless shows to life. They often work apart, but frequently together, including the current production of the original mystery comedy A Minor Case of Murder!, one of Pegasus Theatre’s remarkable Living Black & White shows, where makeup, wigs, sets and, of course, costumes make living human beings appear to be in a black-and-white film from the 1930s.
This is old hat for Serrecchia; Minor Case is his seventh consecutive Living B&W production. But it’s also a unique pairing Robinson’s first chance to design the costumes for Pegasus.
“I had appeared in the final show [Pegasus founder, playwright and star that Kurt Kleinmann] did as Harry Hunsacker, but this is my first time to costume it,” Robinson recounts over a cordial of homemade lemoncello. “It was still challenging — I have seen [Pegasus shows] for years” — Pegasus’ theater used to be across from the Dallas Costume Shoppe on the edge of Deep Ellum — “but it was daunting at first. The wig designer, for instance, had to make a blonde wig [that could not be truly blonde] — how do you do that? You look at fabrics and [have to] predict, how will that read [onstage]? What color would this be if it were a color? Texture helps to [suggest] color and add a different depth. Satins all look the same, for instance. But this play is set on New Year’s Eve, so we can [add texture] with sequins and beads…” although those as well can be fraught with risk.
“Sequins can reflect prisms of color — shoot rainbows, as we say,” Serrecchia offers, nothing that over the years, he has learned tons of shorthands, potholes and tricks to make a B&W show work. One pitfall: The black-and-white effect isn’t employed until tech week, immediately before the opening of the show, so all the work is telescoped into an intense few days (that occurs, as timing would have it, between Christmas and New Year’s).
“It’s tricky. You can look at old movies where you know an actor’s true hair color and see a film they did in black and white [to figure out how to do it],” Robinson says. But even that doesn’t always work: Barbara Hale’s makeup for Perry Mason required a green base and black lips to “read” as fleshtones on TV, and the notorious red dress Bette Davis wore in Jezebel was actually black. And then there are the bigger limitations imposed by the Pegasus Theatre.
“We’re not allowed to show any blood — it’s one of the rules in the Harrypedia,” the compendium of parameters Kleinmann insists upon so that all shows are consistent, Serrecchia says, dunking a homemade biscotto into his coffee. “In fact, the No. 1 question of me, probably because people know directors go screaming into the night [when faced with the Harrypedia], is ‘How do you do it?’ But the strictures are actually freeing. You can’t be off-the-wall. If this is your world, you have to be creative within that, but it’s more challenging. They are comedy characters, but they have [fixed traits]: Who can carry a gun or wear a hat or say this or that. It’s kind of crazy … but kind of exciting.” (In this show, for instance, Det. Foster — who in every previous show wears a hat and overcoat, doesn’t have those because it takes place in a nightclub on the first New Year’s Eve after Prohibition has been lifted.)
Another challenge for Serrecchia is that, with a new play like this one, neither the cast nor even he has the full script when rehearsals begin — he gets them at most a few days before rehearsal. But the artist in him loves it.
“Sometimes we rehearse and we don’t even know who has been killed!” Serrecchia says. “There are no limits here — you have to create. I make [my actors] do their character work and make sure everyone of them could have done it. Once we find out [who the killer is], I make very few adjustments because they are all playing the truth of their character. That’s exciting!”
Maybe not as exciting as making fettuccine, lemoncello and biscotti then relaxing over a fine meal, but the good life has many aspects.