His Inspirations for His Work on the Arizona Theatre Company’s Production of Two Trains Running

August Wilson’s Two Trains Running focuses on the crossroads of a revolution. It explores a time of extraordinary change and the ordinary people who get left behind. Produced locally by the Arizona Theatre Company and presented at the Herberger Theater Feb. 14 through March 3, this story is told heavily through visualization of the time period and by character portrayals. 

For costume designer Mathew J. LeFabvre, this show holds special meaning, and he wanted the costuming to reflect that. 

“This is a show that I’ve done more times than any other, and I have done them all with Director Lou Bellamy. Because the play is set in Pittsburg 1969, I was strongly influenced by the work of a photographer who lived there at that time named Charles Harris. All of August Wilson’s plays are written about that neighborhood as well, and that inspired my designs.”

Matthew noted that late 1960s Ebony magazines gave him further knowledge of what garments of the period people were gravitating toward. Coupled with the raw simplicity of street photography, these tools gave him accurate insight into what real people wore.

“The play is ritualistic. It takes place in a diner under urban renewal, and the city is trying to buy the diner. The owner, Memphis, is trying to get a good price, and there are many obstacles that arise.”

1. Memphis 

Speaking to Memphis and his look, Matthew explains that he’s a self-made man, and through the process of the play much unfolds about him. “We wanted him to dress professionally but remind the audience that he is frugal. Having a set of clothes that mixes and matches a variety of looks with a limited palette was key.” 

2. Risa 

The passage of time happens throughout the play, and Risa’s character never leaves the stage. She is the waitress at the diner Memphis owns, and because she’s a constant, the uniform made sense while also adding an air of professionalism.

 3. Hambone 

Hambone is the heart of the story in many ways, as people feel compassion for his character. “He uses different variations of one phrase throughout—’I want my ham’—because he does odd jobs for people in the neighborhood, such as the Butcher, and there is a story that will unfold,” Matthew says. “His part is a metaphor for the struggle of African-Americans in society. He is a powerful character, so we gave him a military shirt with sleeves cut off to elude a military background. We also included elements of patchwork on his clothes as he does live primality on the streets, and people in this situation tended to embellish their own clothing with scraps.”

4. Sterling 

Characters such as Wolf, Sterling and West are integral parts of the story as well. “Wolf is a numbers runner for a local lottery who fancies himself a smooth operator; hence the long leather jacket, sweaters with flashy chevron patterns, snakeskin boots and Cuban heels. Sterling just came off a short stint in prison, so they issue him a suit, and he is just trying to find his way. West is the town undertaker, so we clothed him in black. His shoes are worn, but they are always polished, so we suspect they’re his only pair.”

“I use much vintage clothing; it’s an authenticity that can’t be replicated,” Matthew says. “There is so much that actors bring to these characters, and my sketches are jumping-off points for what actors are naturally attracted to in their portrayals.”