Playwright: Noel Coward
Circle Th., 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park
Phone: ( 708 ) 771-0700; $21-$23
Through Oct. 23
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
How did Noel Coward get away with it? How could he write and star in Design for Living, a Broadway comedy about a shifting ménage a trois between two men and a woman, in 1932!?
Well, I'm sure Coward's high-wattage do-no-wrong co-stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine probably had something to do with dispelling controversy. And since all three were all playing uber sophisticate artists, their atypical behavior was probably more deliciously silly than downright scandalous.
Nowadays, directors and actors can easily play up all of Design for Living's overt bisexual overtones that were probably glossed over or just ignored before. Recent productions ( like the 2001 Broadway revival starring Alan Cumming and Dominic West ) splashed the subtext across the stage with male nudity and kissing. Circle Theatre follows this trend with its stylish and extremely pertinent production.
In Design for Living, Coward's comically hammers home the point that not all people are destined or suited by nature to fit into one relationship mould imposed by society. Although it is messy at times, the love/hate/love relationship between decorator Gilda, playwright Leo and painter Otto eventually works out comfortably, much to the horror of some of their straight-laced acquaintances. With today's heated war over gay marriage and non-traditional families, Design for Living feels almost as if it were written just yesterday.
For Circle's production, director Jim Schneider has plenty of fun with his game cast. The cast's comic timing and deadpan irony isn't fully firing on all cylinders yet, nor will they be hired any time soon by the BBC for their aspirant British accents. But most everything else is a success and delight.
As the muse Gilda, Simone Roos cuts an extremely glamorous figure in Elizabeth P. Shaffer's satiny and plush period costumes that look like they cost a bundle. Although her free spirited bohemian in the first scene could use a bit more polishing, Roos is amazing later on as the dissatisfied wealthy society woman tired by complacent success.
As the two men in love with Gilda ( and each other ) , Bradford R. Lund's Leo is a wiry wonder of nonchalance, while P.J. Schoney flashes plenty of bravado as Otto.
They have plenty of fun dashing and drinking their way through Bob Knuth's sleek sets which range from a rightfully tatty Left Bank Parisian apartment to a heavenly wood-panel art deco London suite ( Knuth's New York penthouse is marred by a few design-on-a-dime compromises like its clunky stairway ) .
The supporting cast has a good go at the characters, though Robyn Acetta and Patti Roeder shine through as the ones getting the most laughs in their roles of easily swayed New York socialites.
Though not a complete dream come true, Circle Theatre's Design for Living is filled with plenty of skillful fun and full of food for thought. Although Coward never publicly came out of the closet during his lifetime ( he told friends he didn't want to devastate the matinee ladies who were still madly in love with him ) , his ingenious works now more than ever speak out for him.