Robert Sella as Leo, Gretchen Egolf as Gilda and Tom Story as Otto in Noel Coward’s Design for Living, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
I postponed this review (sometimes being “new media” is convenient) because I wanted to make a 100% confident statement about the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Design for Living: you should go.
The only problem I experienced with the production was a few noticeable hiccups with forgotten or flubbed lines. They were minor but sufficiently distracting to reduce some of my enjoyment of the production. With another week and a few days under their belt I have no doubt they’ve put that problem behind them.
Beyond that, this play was a delight.There’s a lot to recommend it, but maybe the best reason to go is so that when Tom Story wins the Helen Hayes award for lead performance next year you’ll have seen why for yourself. Glib, I know, but in a production where all three leads are light and natural Story manages to really connect with the audience in his moments of anger, glee, and despair. Egolf and Sella are good as well, though Egoff suffers simply from having the most reactive part of the play. Her Gilda has to be someone who goes along with the actions of her male counterparts and it doesn’t leave her as much room to shine.
Some of that is probably our cultural biases as well. It’s sort of amazing how salacious this play continues to be several generations later. The love triangle is nothing that doesn’t play out in a dozen hollywood cookie cutter movies every year, but simply by slightly tweaking the ways the players choose to handle the situation Coward provides us with a scenario that’s still somewhat shocking despite all our other societal changes.
It also, despite being a decade past where it could collect social security, manages to portray the situation in a way that isn’t simply being gawkery a la HBO’s Big Love. We still produce art that shows the women in these situations as simply being the pawns of the decision-making men, but at least the cast of Design for Living are something more than a deliberate train wreck for us to gawk at.
Shakespeare Theatre always has lush and beautiful sets but they’ve outdone themselves here. The two intermissions is unusual for them but understandable in this case – your home is not as detailed as the three distinct sets in this play.
Design for Living, May 12 through June 28
Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004