Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Design for Living"

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entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Design for Living"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of The Players 101st season is "Design for Living" which is a comedy play written by Noel Coward in 1932. It concerns a trio of artistic characters, Gilda, Otto and Leo, and their complicated three-way relationship, a menage a trois. Originally written to star Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Coward, it was premiered on Broadway, partly because its risque subject matter was thought unacceptable to the official censor in London. Director John Michael Richardson updates the show to modern times and he casts the 8 best performers in these roles. The comic moments get funnier as the show progresses which makes it a sexy, hilarious and provocative show. He blocks his performers beautifully, gives them clever shtick and comic routines to perform which wins them a thunderous ovation at curtain call.

John Michael is not only a topnotch director but is a fantastic actor, too. I will give a brief synopsis of it. The show is set in Paris. Gilda, an interior designer who lives with the painter Otto, is visited by their friend Ernest Friedman an art dealer. He tells her their mutual friend, the playwright Leo, is back in Paris after making a success in New York.As Ernest is shown to the door by Otto, Leo enters from the bedroom. When Otto returns they tell him they slept together. They have a furious row and 18 months later in London, Leo's plays are a success. Otto shows up while Leo is away. Shortly afterwards Gilda and Otto's love is rekindled. The next morning when Ernest calls on Gilda, she tells him she is leaving Leo. They depart and when Leo returns to discover Otto there, they find the good-by notes she has left both of them. They drown their sorrows in brandy and then sherry, they embrace only to end up in the bed sobbing helplessly. Meanwhile two years later, Gilda has married Ernest, lives in New York and became a commercially successful designer. She throws a party which is crashed by Otto and Leo. She slips them a key to her apartment. After thinking things over she slowly realizes that the attraction Otto and Leo exert over her is irresistible. Gilda tells her husband that she has been normal for two years and is leaving him. Ernest leaves and denounces the disgusting three-sided erotic hodge-podge as Gilda, Otto and Leo fall together on the bed in gales of laughter.

The most hysterical scenes are the drunken scene and the scene when Leo and Otto crash Gilda's party. An erotic dancing segment has to be seen to be believed and is done by the whole cast in the vein of a Saturday Night Live dance. John Michael explains in his director's note that the bed had to be placed down center so that the audience could define for themselves the true nature of Gilda's dilemma:her odd twistings and turnings.The homosocial behavior of Otto and Leo leads to an aggressive rivalry for the same woman, a love triangle that is inevitable. They must find their own design for living and it is in New York that they do just that. Stage managers Kevin Broccoli and Tara Mudrak keep things running smoothly all night long with the cast moving furniture, changing portraits on the wall to change locales.The show was considered risque in its day. The three leading players do a fantastic job in their roles and show their comic prowess all night long. Rachel Morris captures the madcap behavior of Gilda who brings the audience into her world as she lusts after both men, having them hidden at different times in her bed. Gilda changes her mind at a moments notice and finally throws Ernest out of her life. Tall, dark and handsome Ara Boghigian plays Otto, the artist while small, handsome wiry Rudy Sanda plays Leo the playwright.(The three leads run around in their underwear at different points in the show.) They handle the dramatic and comic moments excellently especially the drunk scene being outstanding in its hilarity with Ara burping in Rudy's face when you think he is about to kiss him. Also when they crash the party they wear funny Santa hats, and they come on to the guests with Rudy pawing Mark's shoulder and sitting in Tara's lap at one point which is hilarious. Ara does a pelvic thrust routine to Monique that is another laugh out loud moment.

The supporting cast does terrific work, too.Jim Sullivan does a marvelous job as the long suffering Ernest who puts up with their shenanigans throughout the years. Ernest's meltdown near the end of the show is topnotch when he hurls the suitcases and clothes at Otto and Leo as he runs out of the penthouse. Tara is enchanting as the naive Helen Carver who has to grow up quickly as Leo and Otto perform their antics in the party scene.(Congratulations to Tara and her husband,Ed on their impending birth of their twins in June.) Mark Gentsch who recently played the dramatic lead in "Rabbit Hole" plays Henry Carver, the brash but disapproving American and Monique Shagalian plays the wealthy Grace Torrence who thinks everything is lovely in Gilda's penthouse. She has a funny scene where she suggestively asks Ara's character if he'd like a ride home.Mr. Birbeck, the put-upon British journalist is played by David Epstein. So for a rousing night of acting superlatives and hilarity, make sure you see "Design For Living". John Michael gives a comic introduction at the start of the show to start off the festivities. Be sure to call Lydia to become a member of this century old theatre club.

"Design for Living" (4 - 13 December)
@ Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, PROVIDENCE RI
1 (401)273-0590

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide