You may have seen your share of makeovers, but nothing like the one Sheila Callaghan inflicts on her heroine in "Everything You Touch," her lushly written dark comedy world-premiering at Boston Court Performing Arts Center.
Three glamorous models descend on Jess (Kirsten Vangsness), shrieking like birds of prey, while Victor, a histrionic fashion designer (Tyler Pierce), shouts insults at her.
She staggers out of the fracas in a leopard-print swing coat.
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This scene laid bare the savagery at the heart of every makeover, and it would have won me over — if Jessica Kubzansky's bold, lucid staging of Callaghan's theatrical vision hadn't already done so. Although at moments the script feels as if it's still evolving, the stunning production values highlight its best features (a bit like a makeover, come to think of it).
The play introduces two story lines, which unspool separately, then twist together in pleasingly unpredictable ways. The first involves Victor, a 1970s New York designer and devotee of the beauty-is-pain aesthetic. In his glittering black fashions (sumptuous creations by costume designer Jenny Foldenauer), runway models evoke poisonous animals, and he treats them with pretentious, withering scorn.
Victor's lover and muse, Esmé (Kate Maher), is equally coldhearted. "She wore drama like it was skin," he recalls of the day they met. So it's a shock — with far-reaching consequences — when he throws her over for Louella (Amy French), a folksy Southerner who likes bright colors and waistbands with a little give.
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The second story line focuses on Jess, a self-loathing schlub haunted by three models (Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Fryer and Candice Lam) who make it hard for her to notice her nerdy, besotted co-worker, Lewis (Arthur Keng).
Jess learns that her estranged mother, the chief author of her body-image problems, is dying. During this crisis she meets Victor — or does she? He may not be real: He can make magical things happen with a plume of cigarette smoke (gorgeously projected by Adam Flemming on Francois-Pierre Couture's set). Even so he takes on the job of readying Jess, aesthetically and emotionally, for a journey into her past.
The performances, particularly of the two leads, are confident, nuanced and memorable. And the rich sensory feast Kubzansky and her team have served up — which also includes lighting by Jeremy Pivnick, sound by John Zalewski and witty props by John Burton — is a powerful reminder of why beauty, heartless though it may be, holds us in such thrall.
"Everything You Touch," Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Added performance May 7. Ends May 11. $34. (626) 683-6883 or www.bostoncourt.org. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.