Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Design for Living"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Beverly Creasey

The Publick Theatre’s
Designs on Noel Coward

By Beverly Creasey

Here are two compelling reasons to see the Publick Theatre’s first off-season (indoor) production (at the BCA through Jan. 27). See Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING for his rapier wit and see it for Susanne Nitter’s brilliant performance as the irresistible woman at the apex of an “unconventional” romantic triangle. Even when she rants and raves, she exudes a Myrna Loy-Carole Lombard-1930s, crisp, cool glamour about her.

Coward loved to quip about sexual attraction. My favorite is his wry dismissal of sex as “merely a matter of lighting.” (We’ll have to let lighting designer Scott Clyve be the judge of that!)

Coward was gay but he adored women and wrote gorgeous parts for them. Think BRIEF ENCOUNTER and PRIVATE LIVES. IN DESIGN FOR LIVING, Nitter plays an interior designer (of houses and men!) adored by two suitors (although director Spiro Veloudos has them play it “straight” for Act I and part of Act II) who are attracted to each other as well. Veloudos doesn’t take the usual route to the heart of the play. Instead of the caustic, wildly sophisticated, affected playboys one usually encounters in DESIGN, he gives us a teddy bear of a painter (Gabriel Kuttner) and a rather gruff lion of a playwright (Diego Arciniegas) not the “sleek, little gigolo” Gilda calls Leo. Veloudos has the men discover their mutual attraction only when they’re drunk—What a Laurel & Hardy romp that is!—and they collapse into each other’s arms.

After a divine orchestral version of “Mad About the Boy,” Act III finds the men with quite a “veneer” of giddiness…which, we’re informed, took “years to acquire.” You can’t help but think of “Marvelous Party.” Here’s an odd result of the heightened third act frivolity. When Gilda’s current husband (Nigel Gore at his urbane best) denounces the proposed ménage a trios as “harmful” to society, approving applause rang out from some of the audience, where I’m sure Coward intended us to be lockstep with the Bohemians. Add to that the poor society folk we feel sorry for, instead of feeling that camaraderie of scorn the two men display for the vacuous social climbers. Veloudos ups the ante, Marx Brothers-style (with Jocelyn Parrish as Margaret Dumont) and although it’s quite funny, it loses a wee bit in translation.

Kudos to J. Michael Griggs for the “sordid” lamp—but the “thingee” ought to have been more exceptional, oughtn’t it? Rafael Jean’s smart costumes for Ms. Nitter culminate in the clingy, silk gown no one can stop talking about, punctuated by those drop dead emerald earrings. What style. What pizzazz. They just don’t write plays like this anymore.

"Design for Living" (4 - 27 January)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

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