RTP’s ‘Design for Living’ tells a long complicated story
Noel Coward isn’t my cup of tea. I’m glad I got that off my chest. Really, RTP, it’s me, not you.
Interior designer Gilda (Jennie Meharg) loves artist Otto (Jeffrey Cole). She also loves the playwright Leo (Matt Polson). They love Gilda. And each other. This means, of course, that Gilda marries art enthusiast and the play’s moral compass, Ernest (Michael Hawke).
Yes, it’s complicated.
From Otto’s Paris studio, Leo’s London flat and onto Ernest’s New York apartment, Gilda tries to design a life befitting a successful, high-society woman. The problem is that Gilda is not a normal or proper woman. And living a respectable life just isn’t for her.
Design for Living is a three-act play. Yes, it’s long.
For audiences used to two acts with an intermission in between, Design may be a test of endurance. And Noel Coward doesn’t subscribe to the “less is more” style of storytelling. It is worth attending the show just to sit in awe of how many words the actors had to learn for their roles.
Part of my problem with Design for Living was just that – The witty banter aside, it was easy to get lost following the words, trying to catch the nuances and double entendres, that in the end it was hard to connect with the characters.
This fast pace is part of the problem with the threesome’s relationship. Otto cries “So many words! That’s what’s wrong with us! So many words – too many words, masses and masses of words, spewed about until we’re choked with them.”
I did feel a little suffocated with the words. Coward himself said Design for Living “was liked and disliked, and hated and admired, but never, I think, sufficiently loved by any but its three leading actors.”
My lukewarm relationship with Noel Coward aside, Richmond Triangle Player’s production is very well acted, and the set and costume design were striking. I really did admire much about the production.
Some of the show’s finest moments came from the supporting actors. In particular, Annie Zannetti as Leo’s maid, Miss Hodge was hilarious. While the subject matter fit right in with RTP’s mission – to deliver “adventurous and entertaining theater as the leading voice in the community’s explorations of equality, identity, affection and family, across sexual orientation and gender spectrums” (it was fitting that it opened during Bisexual Awareness Week) – they took a risk with the length and style of production.
Did that risk pay off? It depends on who you ask. It wasn’t my cup of tea. But it might be yours.
There’s still time to decide for yourself.
Design for Living runs through October 18 at 1300 Altamount Avenue, Richmond, Virginia 23230. Tickets
can be purchased at www.rtriangle.org or by calling (804) 346-8113.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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