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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW Design for Living
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2015-11-04

This article shared 4421 times since Wed Nov 4, 2015
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Playwright: Noel Coward. At: Pride Films and Plays at Rivendell Theater, 5779 N. Ridge Ave. Tickets: 1-800-737-0984; www.pridefilmsandplays.com; $22-$27. Runs through: Nov. 22

When most people think of Noel Coward's plays, what comes to mind are frothy Jazz Age comedies of rich idlers behaving badly and reveling in witty repartee with the impunity granted them by privilege, their amorality transpiring at a safe remove from our society today. If we are quick to jeer the disapproval that greeted his irreverent social commentary in its day, though, our own prudery must answer for his observations on legally contracted heterosexual wedlock continuing to enjoy widespread popularity, while those touching on more polyamorous attractions are largely ignored.

The latter provides the premise for this Pride Films and Plays production: Artist Leo Mercure, photographer Otto Sylvus and one-name-only decorator Gilda are living the boho life in Paris circa 1933. Gilda is officially Otto's consort, but after he discovers she has slept with Leo, he renounces them both. A year or so later, he invades the estranged couple's London flat to reclaim Gilda as his muse. When she walks out on both men to marry a kind but stodgy art collector, Leo and Otto turn to one another, embarking together on their exile, only to reunite with their soulmate in New York City two years later in a three-way allegiance as firmly based in Platonic ideals as those modeled on conventional Noah's Ark imperatives.

"All Noel Coward's plays are about people in love," declares director Derek Bertelsen, but what renders Coward's lovers so outrageous are their stubborn adherence to romantic anarchy as well as the youthful egotism that spurs them to act on their convictions. To be sure, it takes each some time alone to determine what those are, alternative cohabitative arrangements being relatively uncharted territory in mid-20th-century Western civilization but, in the end, their author grants them the opportunity to defend the proposal of embracing happiness where you find it. Love is love, as we say in 2015.

Creating an ambience of cosmopolitan chic as practiced in the cultural capitals of three glamorous countries, Kendra Kingsbury's clipped-consonant dialect instruction, G. Maxin IV's skylit scenic design, Kallie Noelle Rolison's ticklish score of vo-dee-o-do music and John Nasca's breathtaking period wardrobe ( right down to the neckties ) conjure fairy-tale magic within the confines of Rivendell's underheated storefront. Their reward—and ours—is a uniformly excellent ensemble of actors led by Kevin Webb, Carmen Molina and Matthew Gall ( with Edward Fraim as the jilted hub ), who invite us to laugh at the artifice of their personae while never ignoring the passion that engages our immediate affections.


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