The curtain rises on the third act of the Noël Coward play to a round of applause for the aesthetically deco set design of 1930s New York City. It’s all black and silver and gray and white and polished and mirrored. The illusion of the play is almost complete. Until my eyes fall upon two chairs with asymmetrically curved backs.
If you’re not familiar with “Design for Living”, it’s a silken comedy centering around the lives and loves of Gilda, Leo, and Otto. Act I – Gilda is living with Leo’s best friend Otto in a Parisian walkup with chipped plaster and grimy tilt-out windows. Leo is the now-successful playwright, Otto the struggling painter, Gilda the muse. It’s made known that Leo spent the night with Gilda while Otto was away. Act II – Gilda is living with Leo in a London flat with marbled columns and a maid. Otto returns, a successful painter who has been living in New York. While Leo is away, Otto spends the night with Gilda. But then runs off with Ernest, another mutual but much older friend. Act III – Gilda is married to Ernest when Leo and Otto both return and jointly demand Gilda return to them. Not to one or the other, but to both of them, jointly.
What I’m leaving out is the overt homosexuality that closes Act II as Leo and Otto decide they belong together since neither one can have Gilda. It’s the classic love-triangle in which, at the end, everyone wins.
The daughter of the prop manager of the theatre is my eldest daughter’s best friend. We’ve been to their house on numerous occasions. So as the curtain rises at the beginning of Act III, I recognize those two chairs from the prop manager’s own living room. Just reupholstered. And as the characters talk about the furnishings of the apartment being for sale, I can’t help but wonder what the date will be for this year’s backstage sale of props and costumes. That lime green deco dress in Act III would be the coolest outfit for my husband’s office Christmas party.
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