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Design for Living.



Design for Living * Written by Noel Coward * Directed by Joe Mantello * Starring Alan Cumming, Jennifer Ehle, and Dominic West * Roundabout Theatre Company The Roundabout Theatre Company is the largest non-profit theatre company based in New York City. They own two Broadway theatres (Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre) and one Off-Broadway theatre (the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Arts).  at American Airlines Theatre The American Airlines Theatre is a Broadway theatre, located at 227 West 42nd Street, New York City.

Originally named the Selwyn Theatre, it was constructed by the Selwyn brothers in 1918.
, New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
, though May 13

Bubbly, frothy froth·y  
adj. froth·i·er, froth·i·est
1. Made of, covered with, or resembling froth; foamy.

2. Playfully frivolous in character or content: a frothy French farce.
, witty, charming--that's what gay used to mean back in the days when Noel Coward was the gayest playwright around, in both senses of the word. Along with Private Lives and Blithe Spirit, Design for Living is one of Coward's best-known plays. Written in 1932, it has a racy rac·y  
adj. rac·i·er, rac·i·est
1. Having a distinctive and characteristic quality or taste.

2. Strong and sharp in flavor or odor; piquant or pungent.

3. Risqué; ribald.

4.
 reputation as a high-spirited comedy about two men and a woman who wind up in a menage a trois ménage à trois  
n.
A relationship in which three people, such as a married couple and a lover, live together and have sexual relations.



[French : ménage, household + à, for
.

What's most intriguing about the Broadway revival of Design for Living is that director Joe Mantello casts aside the superficial ideas we have about Coward's work and grapples with the play itself, which is more complicated and less bubbly than its reputation would lead us to believe.

Otto and Leo Leo, in astronomy
Leo [Lat.,=the lion], northern constellation lying S of Ursa Major and on the ecliptic (apparent path of the sun through the heavens) between Cancer and Virgo; it is one of the constellations of the zodiac.
 and Gilda are old friends. Act 1 finds Gilda (Jennifer Ehle) sharing a starving-artist garret in Paris with Otto, a painter (a dyed-blond Alan Cumming). When she falls into bed with Leo (Dominic West) for the first time, it precipitates a breakup with Otto, and she moves with Leo to London where he's a rising-star playwright. In Act 2, Otto shows up in London--dressed for success in a red coat, looking like Boy George--where he and Gilda fall back into bed together. Confused, Gilda runs off to America with Ernest (John Cunningham), a middle-aged art dealer who's her confidant. Act 3 takes place in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, where Gilda has married Ernest and finally established a career for herself as an interior decorator. Inevitably, Otto and Leo show up in her gleaming chrome private elevator to remind her what rowdy joys exist outside the world of social propriety. To Ernest's fuming fuming /fum·ing/ (fum´ing) emitting a visible vapor.

fum·ing
adj.
Producing or emitting smoke or vapor, as for certain concentrated nitric, sulfuric, and hydrochloric acids.
 disapproval, the three of them fall into an infantile gigglefest as the curtain falls.

Mantello's decision to play this with more depth than an episode of Three's Company turns out to be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it makes for a fresh attack on the play and keeps it grounded in reality. Although the idea of a bisexual love triangle sounds pretty kicky kick·y  
adj. kick·i·er, kick·i·est Slang
So unusual or unconventional in character or nature as to provide a thrill.
, anyone who's tried it knows that it can be an arduous negotiation, emotionally and psychologically, and this production doesn't skip over the bumps along the way. On the other hand, Coward wrote the play as an entertainment for himself to perform with the famous Broadway team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, and for all its talk about flouting convention, it doesn't quite hold up as serious drama.

Cumming, who dazzled Broadway two years ago as the emcee in Cabaret, is delightful to watch, though everything about him (especially his piercings) raises the question of what period the play's set in. West, a British heartthrob making his Broadway debut, matches Cumming in bravely making Otto and Leo more physical and more faggy than they've probably ever been. Ehle, a wonderful actress who won a Tony last year for The Real Thing, dwells so heavily on Gilda's brooding self-hatred and stifled creativity that she seems to be playing Hedda Gabler. It doesn't really make sense, it's not dramatically satisfying, and the sexual chemistry with West and Cumming is decidedly cool. But it's definitely a different way of looking at Noel Coward.

Shewey is the editor of Out Front: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Plays, published by Grove Press.

Find more on Design for Living and Noel Coward at www.advocate.com
COPYRIGHT 2001 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Shewey, Don
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Theater Review
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:May 8, 2001
Words:583
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