Best Set Design

Gianni Downs

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Emerson Studio stage is small — some would say "intimate" — and hard to disguise as anything other than a stage. Gianni Downs not only transformed the space into a dreary, claustrophobic apartment nestled under the stairwell of a Russian boarding house, he accurately depicted the tortuous warrens of Raskolnikov's mind and evoked the scene and aftermath of a grisly double murder — all without a single scene change. A rough ziggurat of chairs, legs locked and jammed together, dominated the space, signifying Raskolnikov's twisted mental state; a simple table became the focal point of his apartment; a back wall of gray boards, aged and smoothed by thousands of hands and bodies brushing past, denoted the boarding house; and a jagged-edged hole kicked into the stage itself and filled with water became the site of Raskolnikov's eventual purification of the soul. Visually impressive and remarkably effective, Downs' design bears the hallmark of the finest stage design: It detracted nothing from the play itself and added immensely to the overall experience.

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Previously in Best of St. Louis