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Design for Living’ brings British humor stateside

Observer Scene | Friday, November 11, 2005

As students and staff enter the Philbin Studio Theatre this weekend, they will notice the atmosphere has been transformed to the look and feel of a 1930s nightclub. Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre has begun its first week of performances of Noel Coward’s witty comedy, Design for Living.

This lively show made its debut in 1933 in Great Britain, and has remained a staple of British theatre because of its timeless themes of morality, marriage and the possibility of defying convention and refusing to conform to society.

Design for Living focuses around the lives of a trio of upper-class bohemians who also share an intensely close friendship. The two males, Otto, a painter, and Leo, a playwright, both adore their female counterpart, Gilda, an interior decorator. Through a series of failed attempts at conventional marriage, Gilda comes to the realization that she might not have to choose between the two most important men in her life after all. At the suggestion of Leo and Otto, the threesome goes on to create their own unique life design.

When choosing the play they will put into production, the Department of Film, Television and Theatre looks at many different aspects of the performance process. The department is always seeking input from students on potential production ideas, which the faculty then come together to discuss. The factors involved in the selection of Design for Living included which faculty member will direct, the number of students that can be involved with the production, the type of performance necessary and the level of training that can be incorporated into the process. The FTT production of Design for Living is being directed by Siiri Scott, an Assistant Professional Specialist for the department.

Besides the three main roles in Design for Living, which are performed by Patrick Vassel (Leo), Michael Girts (Otto) and Sarah Loveland (Gilda), the play has at least 10 other cast members, including Luke Cieslewicz, who plays the part of Ernest. Cieslewicz’s character appears significantly in both the first and final act of the play, and, according to Vassel, makes a comical exit towards the end of the play. Apart from the actors involved, many other students play important production roles working behind the scenes as crew members.

Girts, who is a first-year graduate student studying for his MBA, is a new arrival on the Notre Dame theatre scene. He studied theatre as one of his majors in undergraduate school, and received information about the production just in time to take part. When asked about the differences between Design for Living and other comedic productions in which he has performed, Girts highlighted the fact that the British often have a very different brand of humor than what most American audiences are used to.

“It is more wit than laugh-out-loud slap stick,” Girts said. “You have to embrace the wit and trust your audience to be smart.”

Vassel, a junior political science major, performed in his first FTT production two years ago, and has continued to be involved with the department since. He describes his character, Leo, as the most dramatic of the three main characters in Design for Living. As the first friend left behind in the play,

“Leo is also the one who does the most to get everyone back together again,” Vassel said.

Sarah Loveland describes her character, Gilda, as “artistic and bold for her time.” She is unconcerned with what people think, and stretches the limits of 1930s society. So far, the experience of working on Design for Living has been a positive one of Loveland.

“Siiri, our director, has been wonderful; really giving us freedom to try new things, and at the same time pushing us farther than we thought we could go,” she said.

With a great compilation of people working on this successful play, as well as a close location, multiple shows and a reasonable ticket price, there is no reason why a Notre Dame student shouldn’t make a visit to DPAC to see Design for Living.

“The less you know before you come, the better. If you can walk in with zero expectations, then you will have the most fun going on the ride,” Girts said.

Show times for Design for Living can be found on the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts Web site, www.performingarts.nd.edu.