Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brave Coward

Nothing new here except perhaps to me but I want to make note of the Noel Coward revival here in London st the Old Vic.  It's Design for Living, and it' about a threesome, a threeway, a ménage à trois.  Except it isn't really: the point, clearly, was to say as much as the author could get away with about a male romance.  And strictly speaking, he couldn't away with it.  It was banned in London in 1932, though it had a succesful run in New York the next year; it didn't open on its home turf until 1939.

In many way it's classic Coward: nearly three hour of breathlessly witty dialogue, somewhat shambolic plotting,  characterization no more than necessary for the moment,. But the real centerpiece is a long encounter scene at the end of the second act where the two guys get slowly more direct with each other.  Coward gets away with it in probably the only way he could devise for  time when homosexuality was still a serious crime in Britain--he gets them slowly more drunk, as if to give them an excuse for anything important they might say.  A third act is often hilarious in itself but with reference to the larger structure, it is pretty much tacked on--my pal Hal actually thought it was over at the end of the second act and couldn't understand why there weren't any curtain calls or applause.

I suppose a possible lesson here is that if you were going to speak frankly about homosexuality in Britain in 1932, you'd better do it Coward-style: with wit and charm.  There probably isn't any deeper meaning that.  Setting aside the theme, it is good fun, perhaps a bit padded, an easy evening out.  But you've got to admire the courage of somebody who would so much as have tried it in 1932, saying nothing of the grace to make it work.

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