From the graceful fragility of glass to the juxtaposition of lace and chains, and now to an omnipotent, monstrous flood, the sets at Triad Stage continue to transform words into three-dimensional feelings. And there’s one woman who continually aids the mission.
Anya Klepikov, a returning scenic designer from New York, is back at Triad Stage for its fifth Tennessee Williams’ production, Kingdom of Earth, which opens this weekend.
Born in Sevastopol, a navy town in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine, Klepikov moved to Boston with her family at age 11. She has a bachelor’s in humanities — French literature and aesthetics, and a master’s in fine arts from Yale School of Drama. She used to be a flamenco dancer and played classical piano.
“I decided to go to graduate school for theater design because it seemed that this was a career where I could make visual decisions while interpreting text, and also interact with music and dance,” she said.
Her interest in art began as a child, when her mother encouraged her to collect art stamps on museum trips while she was bored.
Klepikov first came to Triad Stage in 2009 for the set of The Blonde, The Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead with director Eleanor Holdridge. Klepikov and current Triad Stage Director Preston Lane met by off chance at a restaurant and connected through their love for Eugene O’Neill, an Irish-American playwright.
“We jive on the kind of plays we adore, and he’s incredibly collaborative, open and creative,” Klepikov said. “He creates an environment where artists can do their best creative work and try things.”
From grimy to godly, Triad Stage adds touch of ‘Katrina’ to divine flood Kingdom of Earth, a surprisingly funny drama, is set in 1960 Mississippi where a raging storm has forced everyone to flee to high ground. Seeking refuge in a rundown farmhouse, two half brothers from very different mothers and a “loose” woman from Memphis battle for the legacy of a plot of earth.
“I am fascinated by how Biblical the structure and themes of the play are,” said Klepikov, who also designed the sets of Triad Stage’s The Glass Menagerie and A Dollhouse.
The question of the play seems to be who gets to get on the “ark” when the battle’s lost and won. And who gets to inherit the Kingdom of Earth?“I wanted to capture the epic Genesis quality of the story and was obsessed with the idea of putting an ark onstage from the beginning,” Klepikov said.
But the divine, graceful and sometimes ghostly elements run alongside the worrisome and familiar signs of a hurricane’s wrath.
“This rusted barge/ark conveys the lonely predicament of our characters,” Klepikov explained. “The water effect adds the ominous presence of the all-powerful force of nature, raging at the threshold about to destroy them. The muddy water and stilts of the house and the drowning chairs evoke our own recent contemporary experiences with floods, from Katrina to Sandy.
“There is also, of course, that unbelievable Williamsian poetry,” she added. “From the shambles of a destroyed and cynical world he builds a new idea of the sacred.”
Klepikov says she usually draws her inspiration from her choice of materials that she thinks best express the world she is trying to create.
“Texture can convey a lot about the world of a play, about its atmosphere. Here, we have the barely contained power of water and the rusty, stubborn ‘survivalism’ of sheet steel.”
Production Manager Ryan Retartha heads the technical team that brought Klepikov and Lanes’ vision to fruition.
“It has involved a lot of big ideas and big processes that take a lot of testing,” Retartha said. The most notable, time-consuming processes were the creation of the “muddy floor” and the wet backdrop, and actually rusting the steel barge with acid and chemicals.
“One very important element of the set is the ominous presence of nature, the impending flood which is about to wash everything away,” Klepikov said.
“My wonderful production team worked for two months to figure out a water effect that achieved what we needed.”
“We don’t like to say, ‘no.’ We like to say, ‘yes,’ and we love it when designers give us a challenge,” Retartha said.
Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth runs at Triad Stage Feb. 13-March 3. Tickets are $24 for previews (Feb. 13-14), $10-$52 for regular productions depending on day and seating. For tickets or more information call 336.272.0160 or visit triadstage.org.