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Backstage: Designing a home tacky enough for this 'Prince'

Thomas Buderwitz takes great care as he pushes 'the boundaries of good taste' in his set for 'The Prince of Atlantis.'

April 08, 2012|By Jasmine Elist, Los Angeles Times
  • South Coast Repertory Theater's set for the new play "Prince of Atlantis" is nautical-themed, costly but garish, nouveau-riche tacky, filled with fish kitsch.
South Coast Repertory Theater's set for the new play "Prince… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

Few set designers begin production with the intention of creating a deliberately gaudy and tacky stage. However, Thomas Buderwitz, scenic designer for South Coast Repertory's "The Prince of Atlantis," sought to do just that — to "push the boundaries of good taste."

The just-opened play by Steven Drukman follows Joey Colletti (John Kapelos), one of Boston's biggest seafood importers, as he lands himself in a minimum-security prison after getting into trouble with his company. The drama jumps between scenes in the prison and scenes in Colletti's home, referred to as the McMansion.

"This is an unusual case because it's the house of a character who has incredibly bad taste. So not only are there things of a nautical theme, but really everything is gaudy and has a man's touch who has no sense of decoration," Buderwitz explains. "We're walking this fine line between what is tacky but not so visually ugly to the naked eye and also doesn't interfere with the sweeter parts of the storytelling."

Buderwitz spent roughly three months working closely with the lighting, sound and costume designers, as well as the play's director, Warner Shook, to determine décor and transitions. Several of the design elements, such as the wallpaper and the grandiose octopus chandelier, were built in-house. Buderwitz relied heavily on Photoshop to construct the fish-themed wallpaper, alter a portrait used to portray Colletti and ensure that all props seamlessly tied into world created on stage.

"We kept talking about Joey's world being somewhat of a man cave. Also, he is the seafood king — the king of Atlantis — so a lot of it came out of those sea colors: the dark blue color in the wall is an ocean tone that way," says Buderwitz, whose credits include "Art" at the Pasadena Playhouse, "The Trip to Bountiful," "The Weir" and "Three Days of Rain" at South Coast Rep, and "Antony and Cleopatra," currently at A Noise Within.

"I was also careful to make sure that we had Italian American touches in there too, in terms of the slightly gaudier marble, some of the fabric choices and a little bit of tiger print. It has a sensibility of someone of Italian American descent who is also the king of the fish."

"The Prince of Atlantis" runs through April 29.

jasmine.elist@latimes.com

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