Skip to content

long story short

the Long Center, from Inside the Ring

Tag Archives: Austin Shakespeare

Noel Coward’s provocative comedy, DESIGN FOR LIVING Feb. 6-24 at the Rollins Theater from Austin Shakespeare, professional award-winning theater.

398010_10151227109823253_1084958415_n

As Austin Shakespeare goes into its final week of production of Noel Coward’s witty comedy Design for Living, we thought it would be fun to take a second look at the characters from lead Helen Merino’s perspective.  In her interview with Artistic Director Ann Ciccolella, Helen gives us her thoughts on the show

What makes Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING appealing?

Well, it’s an attractive world to start. It draws you into its serious ideas via sex, period clothing, enchanting music, and dazzling wordplay. It is a provocative, substantial, sometimes even painful journey but always in the close company of something sparkling, fun and beautiful. My only regret about being in it is that I can’t be in the audience to have that happen to me.

Why did you want to act in DESIGN FOR LIVING?

It was a combination of the script and knowing I would be working on it with Ann (Ciccolella, director). In general, I find it hard to turn Austin Shakespeare down. The experience is always the way I fantasize I’ll be treated as an actor in other companies but rarely ever am. There seems to be – not
just in Ann, but in the staff as well – a sincere, intelligent interest in what actors actually DO, so the odds of being able to DO it goes way up. I’m hired as a real colleague, employed and encouraged to do my best. They are the most satisfying company to work with because of it.

Champagne-Photo.D4L

Also, I fell in love with Coward’s three main characters. He manages to be frankly critical of them without ever losing the thread of what makes them beautiful. In the end it’s their beauty, their shameless, authentic devotion that carries them to their final convictions. They all have smallness in them that they fight against or give into throughout the show, each of them following the wrong solutions to what they need to be.  But I love that when they do the final math, they look simply to the truth. Coward lets real love and honor be the thing that carries them toward survival, not fear or whim. I think that’s what separates them from some of his more cynical, sexually addicted characters. I honestly don’t know how other people will take them, but I like them all very much.

What surprised you about Noel Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING?

Hands down, it’s the level of difficulty. It’s not just the language – which is some of the most difficult I’ve ever done, and absolutely the most difficult not written by Shakespeare. It’s the show’s hybrid style. Coward, sort of brilliantly, tells us the impossible story of helpless

21906_10151301655818253_1075770236_nlove for two people by using two different styles of drama; it’s part “Private Lives,” part “Brief Encounter.”  And he, like his characters, seems frankly, blindly in love with both methods of communication – it’s all hot and cold speech; each scene seems to exist simultaneously on two planets. The method of conveyance is sometimes a swift, cool, calculated bubble, then switches immediately into a savage, indecent, humiliating openness. It makes one feel a constant sense of, “what’s happening? is this right?”  It’s very hard to modulate, alternate, and find the right place to be, but when you do, you feel like the best of bareback riders.

For more information and Tickets to Design for Living at The Long Center.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Editor’s Note: Long Center Resident Company Austin Shakespeare, a professional, award-winning theatre company, presents Noel’s Coward provocative comedy, Design For Living, February 6-24 in the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater.

dfllogo

It’s difficult for us to realize the extent of the daring nature of Design for Living. Premiering in 1933, its treatment of sexuality in loving relationships was provocative for the time. Using a three-way love affair as the core of the plot, much of the play would still be considered eyebrow-raising today. Michael Miller plays the lead role of “Leo” in the production, and he also starred as “Mr. Darcy” in Austin Shakespeare’s recent production of Pride & Prejudice.

Ann Ciccolella: What does Noel Coward’s Design for Living say to you about relationships?

The play presents an aspect of human relationships that isn’t often discussed and may not be fully understood but, for all that, is similar to the situations in which many people do find themselves. Though our society values and presents coupling as the dominant and only acceptable mode of romantic relationship, Design For Living asks, “What do you do when you love more than one person at once?” But then, going further, it asks, “What happens when the people you love return your love but also love each other?” You might have stumbled on similar stories on Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, but I guarantee, the participants there didn’t explore their situation with nearly the amount of wit, intelligence, honesty (& healthy teeth) as these characters.

Why did you want to act in this play?

noel cowardI was excited to do the show because I’ve loved Noel Coward for years. I had the best time years ago doing two different productions of his Hay Fever in which I played the same character both times. I love his wit, language, music, elan and the fact that he was obviously, if not openly, gay (and therefore a kind of role model for me). And then there was the chance to work with Ann Ciccolella, Helen Merino & Michael Dalmon again. And although he signed on after I was cast, the addition of Martin Burke took that ‘triple treat’ and made it a treat to the fourth power.

What surprised you about the work?

designforlivingWhat has surprised me is the depth of the play. I think the common conception of Coward (definitely what comes to my mind, at least) is that of the urbane, quick-witted sophisticate. And there is that – the language is unlike any other writer’s and the humor singularly Coward’s. However, this can make him seem a little “too cute for school.” But the play is rife with honestly presented conflict and searing heartbreak. And then he gives the audience this challenge  – Design For Living starts where many plays, movies, TV shows, etc. end. In other words, without giving away too much, the first act ends where most other dramas end, but Coward keeps drilling deeper as he lets the characters continue to explore just how far their love for each other can go. And therefore, this play is far more surprising and courageous, I think, than most any other you could see.

Tags: , , ,

Editor’s note: we are once again proud to feature the perspective of an organization that makes the Long Center its performance home. This time from Ann Ciccolella, Artistic Director at Austin Shakespeare, one of our new Resident Companies. Austin Shakespeare is staging Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice in our Rollins Studio Theatre November 7-25.

Bit by bit we are putting our new ‘Pride and Prejudice’ together. Actors, designers and crew love working on this new adaptation but it is challenging. Like a carousel, the show goes round every few minutes to a new situation and a new group of characters… including dances and music. Our chorographer Toni Bravo, who can be elegant even in her high-heeled boots, takes the actors step by elegant step.

I love the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, so I am hearing his song in my head “Bit by bit, putting it together.”

Actors know their lines but that is only the beginning of their work as they begin to work on the Rollins stage. I ask the perennial directorial question: “What do you want from him or her?” and “What if you wanted to tease him so he would smile?”

That “what if” is the key to most of our creative action. What if that wall were bluer? What if that hat had a feather? That is the nature of our work: to try. Jane Austen brings out the best in us. We stretch to do great writers justice, and they lift our work with their great imagination.

This week we added more music cues that we have acquired from the original production by Joe Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan. But our actors are from Austin – even if one came last year from Los Angeles and another came six months ago from NYC. This production is original to Austin. We are so fortunate to have our resident lighting designer, Jason Amato turn down other more lucrative projects to work on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with us. His light design will be as delightfully rhythmic as Austen’s language.

Also this week we shot a short trailer for You Tube with Michael Dalmon, and our Elizabeth and Darcy had their first media outing with KOOP Radio “Off Stage and On the Air,” plus we talked with John Aielli on KUT. KXAN-TV for Friday…. Money, time and people. The three elements of any project. In theater, we are always tight on all three. But the people are the best part. They give their all. Actors, designers, technicians and crew. We have a fabulous resident Equity stage manager, Shannon Richey who keeps me in check on not over taxing anyone and everyone.

All in all, we are lucky to have this amazing collection of talent and inspiration…YOU are the final element we need as we ‘put it all together!’

–Ann Ciccolella, Artistic Director
Austin Shakespeare

Austin Shakespeare’s “Pride & Prejudice’ is playing at the Long Center’s Riollins Studio Theatre November 7-25. Visit the Austin Shakespeare site for tickets.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,