Design for Living, which opened last night at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre, is regarded, along with Private Lives and Hay Fever, as one of Noel Coward’s enduring, great plays. One can imagine the gasps and laughter - nervous and otherwise - which must have greeted its 1933 debut on Broadway starring husband and wife Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and Coward himself as a trio of decadent artists who travel from London to Paris to New York in search of true love, a search which resolves itself by this design in a gay, sophisticated ménage à trois.
Design for Living is, in many ways, just as startling as it was almost 70 years ago. Although reports of the original production indicate that Otto (Alan Cumming) and Leo (Dominic West) didn’t kiss and fondle each other as enthusiastically or frequently as they do in this revival, Joe Mantello has remained completely true to the play, Coward’s darkest and most emotionally satisfying comedy. Mantello has given us an honest, beautiful and lavish production in which Alan Cumming, Jennifer Ehle, and Dominic West bedazzle, astonish, and delight us with performances which would have pleased Coward himself.
After his Tony winning turn in Cabaret, Alan Cumming’s vulnerable, petulant, childishly innocent, and ultimately endearing performance as Otto should come as no surprise. After her Tony winning turn in The Real Thing, Jennifer Ehle’s emotionally anguished, verbally supple, and almost overpowering performance as the catalyst Gilda is a revelation. Dominic West admirably completes Coward’s triangle with a sophisticated and aggressive performance which provides the necessary and exquisite counterpoint.
John Cunningham makes the repressed art dealer Ernest more of a well rounded victim than one would have imagined possible. The rest of the cast, particularly Jenny Sterling as Miss Hodge, have brief moments in which they shine.
Good, quality revivals of Noel Coward’s greatest plays are rare. With this production, the Roundabout Theatre Company has given us what I won’t hesitate to call their best work ever. To really experience what Coward as a playwright was all about, this Design for Living is a must see.
Design For Living by Noel Coward. Directed by Joe Mantello. Cast: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Ehle, Dominic West, Marisa Berenson, John Cunningham, T. Scott Cunningham, Saxon Palmer, Jenny Sterlin, Jessica Stone. Scenic design by Robert Brill. Costume design by Bruce Pask. Lighting design by James Vermeulen. Original music and sound design by Douglas J. Cuomo.
Theatre: American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday 8 PM, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 PM - Limited engagement through May 13
Ticket prices: Orchestra & Front Mezzanine $65, Rear Mezzanine $55, Box Seats (partial view) $40
Tickets online: Individual tickets are not available online. Subscriptions to the Roundabout Theater Company for the 2000-01 Season may be purchased online at www.roundabouttheatre.org or by calling (212) 719-1300
Tickets by phone: Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 2 PM