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Jewish Journal

Design for Living

Theater


by Tom Tugend

October 23, 1997 | 8:00 pm

In Act Two: Scene II of Noel Coward's "Design for Living," Gilda,the object of everybody's affection, gives a thumbnail critique of anew play by Leo, one of her rotating lovers.

"Three scenes are first rate, especially the last act," observesGilda. "The beginning of the second act drags a bit, and most of thefirst act's too facile -- you know what I mean -- he flips along witheasy swift dialogue, but doesn't go deep enough. It's all very wellplayed."

Coward may have been satirizing the sort of review many of hisplays received from London's more dyspeptic critics, but the linesfit the author's 1933 opus like a well-tailored glove.

Coward created the characters of Leo, Gilda and painter Otto --bounded by an endless fascination and love for each other -- as avehicle for himself and his great friends, Lynn Fontanne and AlfredLunt. It must have been an experience to see the three thespianssavoring the non-stop dialogue.

The plot in brief: Leo and Otto have been inseparable friendssince their days as struggling artists in Paris, with Gilda as theirmutual inspiration, friend and critic. Gilda chooses to live withOtto, but one evening, when the painter is away, Leo arrives, onething leads to another, and he stays for the night. Otto, embitteredat the treachery, exits.

Eighteen months later, Otto repents and shows up unexpectedly atthe London flat, shared by Leo and Gilda. Leo happens to be away, onething leads to another, and you know the rest.

The strains of the triangular relationship exhausts even Gilda;she departs, and ends up as the wife of middle-aged New York artdealer Ernest Friedman, longtime pal of the three main characters.Two years later, Otto and Leo pop up unexpectedly, when the artdealer is away, and ...we'll leave the denouement for the viewer.

Coward described his three protagonists so precisely that it's nouse trying to improve on the author. "These glib, overarticulate andamoral creatures force their lives into fantastic shapes andproblems, because they cannot help themselves," he writes. "Impelledmainly by the impact of their personalities each upon the other, theyare like moths in a pool of light, unable to tolerate the lonelyouter darkness, and equally unable to share the light withoutcolliding constantly and bruising one another's wings."

"Design for Living" had its world premiere in New York to avoidthe more straight-laced British censorship, and it would be nice torelive the sense of daring, the thrill of the risque, that initiallygreeted the play.

Though still frequently amusing, and occasionally impressive forits flights of verbal facility, time has not treated the play kindly.Mores and attitudes have changed too profoundly, the shock value isgone, and if the play were to be made into a movie, it would rate, atworst, a PG-13.

Still, there are some delicious moments, none more so than in thethird act, when Leo and Otto jointly crash Gilda's party and confoundthe guests with some over the top repartee.

It is a compliment to A Noise Within: Glendale's Classical TheatreCompany, that the ensemble injects considerable liveliness, and evensome edge, into the current production.

Under the sharply paced direction of Sabin Epstein, Jenna Cole asGilda, Francois Giroday as Otto, and Art Manke as Leo, make usbelieve that these glib characters are alive and that we have someconcern for their problems.

Mitchell Edmonds essays the role of Ernest Friedman with hiscustomary vigor and aplomb, and Ann Marie Lee steals her scenes asthe hapless maid, Miss Hodge.

Nostalgia buffs will appreciate the high fashions of the 1930s,recreated by Alex Jaeger. Anna Pasquale smoothly transitions thesetting from a grubby studio in Paris to an upscale London flat to achrome-encrusted New York penthouse.

"Design for Living" runs through Nov. 23 in repertory withShakespeare's "Richard III" and Moliere's "The Learned Ladies." Fortickets and information, phone (818) 546-1924.

Film Fest to Commence This Week

The AFI Film Festival will screen more than 50 films through Oct.30. Two films of interest:

Orna Raviv's 92-minute 1996 feature "Dogs are Colour Blind" fromIsrael, takes place during one comic night in Tel Aviv. A youngcouple returns home to find their house has been broken into. He setsout to watch a basketball match with his friends; she sets out toinform the police, and various madcap adventures ensue. The filmscreens October 24, 3:30 p.m., at Laemmle's Monica Theatre; and Oct.27, 2 p.m., at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Michael O'Keefe's 1997 documentary, "Raising the Ashes," describesa gathering of 150 people at Auschwitz for five days of reflection onthe Holocaust. After appreciating Auschwitz as the scene of thegreatest crime of the 20th century, the film demonstrates how thedeath camp and places like it can become sources for healing.Screenings are Oct. 24, 11:45 a.m., at the General Cinema GalaxyTheatres in Hollywood; and Oct. 27, 10:30 a.m., at the Galaxy.

Tickets are $7.50 for each screening. Festival passes cost $350.For tickets and information, call (310) 520-2000. -- NaomiPfefferman, Senior Writer

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