April Soroko has no problem getting down to business.
Fairytale sets and costumes are escapist and fun to design, but the serious stuff keeps Soroko grounded and in her own words: “intellectually challenged.”
So, when Florida Studio Theatre hired the Yale-educated set-and-costume designer to build the Chicago law library for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet’s “Race,” Soroko jumped at the opportunity.
“You really get to create the whole world of the play,” Soroko says of set design. “I like doing research on architectural details, digging up historical references. It’s exciting.”
In addition to the set, Soroko was also responsible for outfitting the cast of lawyers in contemporary power suits, which she found at local department stores such as Macy’s and Dillard’s.
Soroko, 40, has worked as a freelance set-and-costume designer for more than 18 years, traveling to
theater companies all over the country, in addition to teaching at the University of Miami.
Many FST fans are already familiar with Soroko’s work. The designer built the set and costumes for this season’s screwball spy thriller, “The 39 Steps.”
“Race,” which opened Jan. 26, in the Keating Theatre, has offered a sobering change of pace.
A tense legal drama, controversial for its cutting dialogue and divisive subject matter, the play follows the case of a rich white man charged with raping a young black woman.
Directed by FST’s Richard Hopkins, the play takes place in one place, on one day and required no costume changes.
“The only thing that moves on the set is a door,” Soroko says. “It opens and closes.”
Though the assignment was much less time-consuming than the designer’s usual workload, it required an attention to detail the average theatergoer might not realize, from the stately bookcases stocked with rows of law encyclopedias to the mossy green walls, which were originally faux-finished to resemble wood.
Perched on the edge of the intimate Keating stage, Soroko rattles off the particulars of the set, starting with the hardwood floor that was installed shortly before opening night.
“We wanted the room to feel very masculine, but well used,” Soroko says. “We wanted to communicate that the office has been around for 20 years and that the furniture isn’t too precious. We didn’t want the pieces to look like a matching set.”
Soroko originally pictured an austere and sparsely decorated law office. After collaborating with the rest of the crew, however, the box set became much more complex.
Even the costumes became fastidiously accessorized down to the width of one character’s wedding band and the length of another character’s facial stubble.
To achieve a subtly disheveled look, actor Ronald Siebert, cast as billionaire and accused rapist Charles Strickland, decided to shave his face at the end of each show, rather than fold it into his morning routine.
“The actors have been so helpful,” Soroko says. “They know their characters better than anyone. Really, there’s only so much I can bring to it.”
SOROKO’S FAVORITE DESIGNS
’The Tempest,’ 2010 (North Carolina Shakespeare Festival)
“It was one of the top sets I’ve ever had the opportunity to design. The budget was big, and the scale was huge. We built a two-story revolving tree with a curved staircase. It was definitely a fantasy.”
’Debunked,’ 2004 (Triad Stage, Greensboro, N.C.)
“It was a new play by Alexander Woo, who’s since gone on to produce HBO’s ‘True Blood.’ He’s one of the funniest, wackiest, weirdest playwrights out there. I never laughed so hard on a show. My face would hurt at the end of the day.”
’Orfeo ed Euridice,’ 2001 (New Jersey Opera)
“It’s Baroque opera, but they wanted to update it, so I had to find contemporary clothes equivalents. I ended up finding a gorgeous Vera Wang knock-off wedding gown.”
IF YOU GO
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet’s “Race” runs now through March 19, at Florida Studio Theatre. For tickets, call 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.