Berkshire Theatre Group: ‘Design For Living' Kids at play in an adult world


STOCKBRIDGE -- Written by Noel Coward in 1933 as a lark for Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne and himself, "Design For Living" celebrates the freewheeling lifestyle of a playwright named Leo, an artist named Otto and an interior designer named Gilda, who defy convention in a ménage a trois that, unsurprisingly, plays by its own rules.

"Design For Living" is a rarely done serious comedy that examines the impact of success and celebrity on those who are unprepared for it and, more important, how one operates within a moral fabric that rejects convention while, at the same time, wrestles with such mundane, conventional impulses like jealousy, possessiveness, acceptance, belonging, the desire and need for love.

Director Tom Story has kept "Design For Living" in its period but lowered Leo, Otto and Gilda's ages five or so years to match the ages of his actors -- Chris Geary as Otto, Tom Pecinka as Leo and Ariana Venturi as Gilda -- a shift that does not entirely work to "Design For Living's" advantage.

What Story and his crew leave us with is a not terribly involving evening in the company of three self-absorbed twentysomethings who plow through the lives of everyone around them with blithe indifference.

What propels them over the course of the play's nearly four-year span is the sweet smell of success. Leo (Pecinka in the only engaging, fully dimensional portrayal of the three) has written a hugely successful play that has thrust him into the public eye and placed social demands upon him that he reluctantly welcomes and rejects at the same time. Otto (Geary, a triumph of style over substance) has his bread buttered by the elite who pay him handsome commissions. Gilda (Centuri) is an interior designer who, as played by Venturi with a high-pitched whine, is an impulsive, petulant creature hovering uncertainly between adolescence and womanhood and who bears little, if any, of the skills for which she is held in high regard by Leo, Otto and her would-be mentor, protector and savior, an art dealer named Ernest (a reasonably credible Paul Cooper) -- her good taste and her critical eye. You can't help but wonder why anyone would trust this Gilda's taste and judgment, even under Ernest's tutelage, enough to hire her.

Over the course of the cleverly titled "Design For Living," romantic / sexual alliances among Leo, Otto and Gilda constantly shift, often to the surprise, outrage and pain of whomever is left out. The pattern plays out until what we have known all along is made abundantly clear -- that these three are fit for no one but each other.

"We have our own decencies. We have our own ethics. Our lives are a different shape from yours," Leo tells an understandably upset Ernest when he and Otto turn up at Ernest's New York penthouse after two years traveling around the world to reclaim their stranded Gilda.

It's all wearing and tiresome, especially an interminable second act drunk scene between Leo and Otto that ends, appropriately enough in 2014, with an exchange that makes explicit what Coward had to keep implicit in 1933.

Kids at play in an adult world, Coward's threesome are welcome to their own company. Theater Review

DESIGN FOR LIVING by Noel Coward. Directed by Tom Story; scenic designer, Reid Thompson; costume designer, Hunter Kaczorowski; lighting designer, Dan Kotlowitz; sound designer, Steve Bush. Through Aug. 16. Eves.: 8 Mon., Tue., Thu.-Sat.; 7 Wed. Mats.: 2 Sat. Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge. Tickets: $48. (413) 997-4444; 2 hours 40 minutes

Helen Carver

Madeline Calandrillo

Ernest Friedman Paul Cooper

Mr. Birbeck Andrew Flynn

Otto Chris Geary

Grace Torrance Jillian Hannah

Miss Hodge Molly Heller

Leo Tom Pecinka

Henry Carver Nick Perron

Gilda Ariana Venturi

Matthew Dylan Zalikowski


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