Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” is much like his other plays — beautiful people quipping pithily while throwing back copious amounts of alcohol. But the happy surprise with this show is that, unlike some of his other work, it’s honestly quite timeless. All the better, then, that Berkshire Theatre Group decided to bring it back this summer in a lush production well worth the trip.
’Design for Living’
WHERE: Berkshire Theatre Group, 6 East St., Stockbridge, Mass.
WHEN: Through Aug. 16
HOW MUCH: $48
MORE INFO: (413) 997-4444, www.berkshiretheatregroup.org
Gilda, Otto and Leo (Ariana Venturi, Christopher Geary and Tom Pecinka) are both friends and lovers in the 1930s, when such things were frowned upon, even in the artistic circles they inhabit. Otto is an artist, Leo is a playwright, and Gilda is a budding interior decorator — and also a muse to both men. No one quite understands their relationship, themselves included, other than the fact that, no matter what, they quite desperately love one another. Through the years, we see the various couplings and attempts members of the group make to leave, without much success, and the reactions from others not privy to their particular bond.
Both of the men are quite good in their roles, especially in the scene where they get very drunk together (their various physicalities had the audience roaring with laughter). But the star of this show, and, luckily, should be, is Venturi as Gilda. Venturi takes a character who could have been nothing but a magic pixie dreamgirl trope and makes her three-dimensional right before our eyes. You can see her emotions in both her face and her body language; even her voice takes on different qualities in different moments. Venturi is a rare talent, and we can all be lucky enough to say we saw her here when she was just beginning her career.
The scenic design by Reid Thompson switched flawlessly from a dingy artist’s garret to an opulent penthouse suite with some truly impressive chandeliers. The costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski was some of the best I’ve seen in the area this summer — very lush and bright, very true to the period but somehow very modern and stylish without being anachronistic.
Tom Story’s direction is flawless. In the director’s notes, we see that he starred as Otto years ago in the show, and that is visible in his direction — he is obviously connected to the work and the characters. There is care in everything that he’s put on the stage.
“Loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean being by yourself,” Gilda says when being accused of not understanding what it is to be lonely, and it is in this, and in her relationship with these men where we can see ourselves. She is all of us when we’ve loved someone despite everything that’s happened, when we make our own family from our friends, when we choose what seems impossible over what seems safe.
The applause at the end was as much for the emotions the play raised in us as it was for this brilliant, timely, beautiful production.