Never afraid of controversy, Noel Coward‘s DESIGN FOR LIVING must have seemed bawdy and shocking in its day. Let’s face it, a menage a trois always elicits controversy. But somehow that master of witty repartee has fashioned a comedy that gets away with bad behavior by wrapping it in his signature complexities of the English language. The result is the highly polished production playing at the Irish Classical Theatre.
This 2017-28 season is being billed as their season of comedies and it is off to a smashing start. Coward’s play revolves around Otto, Leo and Gilda, best friends and secretly best lovers. The three act play allows for inappropriate relations with Gilda and each of the men, often behind the other’s back, but not for long. The three are completely self involved beings who live for their own immediate pleasure, without regard for their actions. As only Coward can do, he pens these fascinatingly wicked characters who would be disliked by society, but somehow enamors the audience with their bad behavior.
Director Katie Mallinson has assembled a brilliant trio of actors that shine individually, but create genuine sparks when in pairs or all together. Irish Classical’s audience favorite Kate LoConti plays Gilda, the frustrated socialite who lives for the “now” moment and doesn’t often contemplate more than a minute in the future. Gilda is prone to lying to cover up her affairs, but ultimately is never happy with any of them. Ms LoConti and Mallinson have studied their scripts, where Gilda is often referred to as various animals– Gilda hops, jumps on furniture, sits on chair by squatting on it, and is a general whirlwind of activity. LoConti is coy and mischievous, reveling in each of her affairs, like a smitten teenager unable to make an “adult” decision.
Adriano Gatto is Otto, an aspiring artist. Mr. Gatto turns in a nuaunced comical performance full of English bluster that is utterly charming. His comfort on stage allows him to shed any pretenses, as he copes with the hand which he has been dealt. His infectious laugh and charismatic presence exuded confidence throughout the evening. Ben Michael Moran completes the trio as Leo, the witty playwright. Mr. Moran appears to the manor-born, full of pomposity and self assurance. His perfect British accent is matched by his elegant air, striking poses and strutting about. When Gatto and Moran finally confront each other regarding their affairs with Gilda, the drama and comedy is priceless. Over endless bottles of liquor the men first feud over their predicament and ultimately end in a drunken “love-ya-man” moment, where they both realize that as a duo they may have the upper hand in claiming Gilda.
Eric Michael Rawski is Ernest, the slightly older art dealer who has befriended all of the three, but sets his own stakes on Gilda. Rawksi embodies the pretentious fop, rich and more level headed than the others. The play’s conclusion offers the trio as one unit now, meaning that Gilda’s new marriage to Ernest must be abandoned. Here Coward seems to belabor Ernest’s exasperation, often reiterating the same language, making the 3 hour drama seem about 10 minutes longer that comfort allows. Happily, these four seasoned actors show such commitment to the text that the comedy never waivers.
Ms. Mallinson’s direction is quick paced and doesn’t allow for too much schtick, so that when it does occur it packs more of a punch. She effortlessly moves the cast along making use of all areas of the stage–not an easy feat for theatre in the round. Costume designer Ann Emo has fashioned lovely period pieces for the ladies that aren’t overdone and handsome men’s furnishings.
Coward’s concept of a modern design for living suggests that there are many ways to choose to live, and a bohemian lifestyle without preconceived notions may be an option for some. His dialogue here is often biting while being thought provoking. In lesser hands, DESIGN FOR LIVING may come off a stale and dated, but this witty production shows what great acting and directing can do to dust off an old standard.
by Michael Rabice, broadwayworld.com, September 29, 2017