Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Design for Living

Also see Susan's review of Giant

Robert Sella, Gretchen Egolf and Tom Story
Design for Living is the Shakespeare Theatre Company's first production of a play by Noël Coward, and it's about time. This Washington company has a record of success with comedies of manners from Congreve and Sheridan to Wilde and Shaw, and this glittering bonbon is a worthy addition to the canon.

Director Michael Kahn has polished Coward's story of a romantic equilateral triangle—the devotion among Gilda (Gretchen Egolf), Otto (Tom Story), and Leo (Robert Sella) is equally balanced—to the requisite high gloss. In fact, the cast makes the small roles as fully realized as the leads, such as Kevin Hogan as the serious-minded art dealer who serves as the trio's foil; Catherine Flye as a maid whose internal rhythm isn't quite in sync with the world around her; Sherri L. Edelen as a woman with too much money and too little taste: and Nathan Bennett as an unflappable butler.

The play follows three bohemian artists from early poverty through ultimate success. Otto, a painter, and Leo, a playwright, were friends (and maybe more) before they met Gilda, an interior decorator; now the three of them have come to realize they can't live either with or without the others. All the while, they use words to deflect emotion, to excuse bad behavior and occasionally to share sincere feelings and try to forge connections.

Egolf is a shimmering presence, Story is blunt and a little awkward, and Sella is sleek and rather calculating, but they are definitely a lot of fun to spend an evening with as they carom off each other like billiard balls. Whether Egolf is spinning one extravagant lie after another or the two men are getting drunk and sloppy together, it's all like attending what Coward would call "a marvelous party."

Scenic designer James Noone has created three sets that earn the applause they receive: a theatrically seedy artist's garret in Paris, all grimy, peeling walls and mismatched furniture; a richly paneled, marble-trimmed London flat; and an Art Deco penthouse in New York City with towering chrome light fixtures and black and white decor. Robert Perdziola's costumes are equally sumptuous, especially Gilda's floating third-act gown and Leo's dapper dressing gown (an affectation borrowed from Coward himself).

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Design for Living
May 12th —June 28th
By Noël Coward
Gilda: Gretchen Egolf
Otto Sylvus: Tom Story
Leo Mercuré: Robert Sella
Ernest Friedman: Kevin Hogan
Miss Hodge: Catherine Flye
Mr. Birbeck: Todd Scofield
Grace Torrence: Sherri L. Edelen
Henry Carver: Richard Theriot
Helen Carver: Rebecca Kaasa
Matthew/Photographer: Nathan Bennett
Directed by Michael Kahn
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Scott Suchman

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