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Design for Living

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  170 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
Noel Coward's audacious comedy from 1933, written for himself and the Lunts, centers on a sexual threeway between Leo & Gilda & Otto, three bohems who are in love with each other. Romantic, heartless, daring -- in sum, about as modern as you can get.
Paperback, 152 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Kessinger Publishing (first published 1932)
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A famous title resulting not from the play but from the wonderful Lubitsch movie (sc Ben Hecht, who used 2 lines by Coward), it's a provocative work, though not particularly funny. At times, it's even nasty and worse, for Coward, boring. Still, writ for himself and the Lunts, and first performed in 1933, give Coward credit for tackling bisexuality-plus, which ev'one either let pass or chose blinkeredness. Today, it's seldom performed (with good reason: it needs serious cuts and demands glam acto ...more
Amorality, the menage a trois, bisexuality, and carpe diem win out in a fit of defiant demonic laughter in Noel Coward's 1933 three-act theatrical comedy Design for Living.

I was prompted to read this play script after having read Sheridan Morley's final biography of Noel Coward and also because the hilarious 1933 screen adaptation by Ernst Lubitsch and Ben Hecht is one of my all-time favorite movies. (I'd wondered for many years why it was so obscure but with its release in recent years on Crite
Kevin Lawrence
Noël Coward’s play Design for Living is a very dated play ostensibly about a love triangle (hinting at bisexuality), but it's really an exploration of being downright shameless. At one point, the female lead in this love triangle asks one of her male counterparts, “haven’t you got any shame at all?” To which he replies, “just about as much as you have.” To wit: none.

The actual dynamic of this ménage à trois is very repetitious: two partner up and live together quietly pining for the third while
Ivonne Rovira
Dec 20, 2016 Ivonne Rovira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The actual facts are so simple. I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me. There now! Start to unravel from there.

Noël Coward’s Design for Living opened on Broadway in 1933 because it was too risqué for London’s West End. Even today, you probably wouldn’t find it on broadcast television before 10 o’clock. Painter Otto Sylvus and playwright Leo Mercuré were fast friends and destitute unknowns in Paris’ Latin Quarter when they both met and later fell in
Nov 08, 2016 Marissa rated it really liked it
I had heard that Design for Living was a scandalous-in-its-time comedy about bisexual polyamory, so I expected it to be a naughty and frothy romp. But I found it a much sadder, angrier play than I anticipated. The characters’ unconventional sexual mores don’t seem to make them happy; they think free love will liberate them but it mostly seems to lead to discontentment and anguish.

The two men in the play’s poly-triad – painter Otto and playwright Leo – are not very distinctly characterized, but t
Feb 17, 2014 J.C. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: play, sexuality, drama
"It's witty and funny but beyond that, I didn't get it. "

Ok so that's my original statement after having read the whole thing. After the class ended (the one that assigned it) and I had some time to think about it, I still feel meh. I despise the characters, and I'm not sure whether I feel like i should root for them and their choices or wish they were set on fire. The cover makes this distaste even stronger. It made me wish i remembered how to fold a paper bag over the book to give it a book co
Max Zumstein
Feb 16, 2014 Max Zumstein rated it liked it
It's hard to review plays just by reading them, but since I'm trying to be thorough with what I've read this year for this site, I guess I'll just briefly say that this one is funny enough, if a bit of a lark. Noel Coward's witty dialogue and lovably amoral characters sparkle as per usual, but if he really wanted to pursue the themes he briefly touches upon with Otto's "It's none of their business" monologue with any sort of seriousness, I don't know that he succeeded all that well. Given that C ...more
Mar 11, 2016 Mike rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
2.5 stars Noël Coward's risqué comedy about a bisexual ménage à trois is dated, and surely doesn't come off as funny as if viewed on stage. There are some clever one-liners in this light comedy, but Coward doesn't attempt to make any larger statements about the structure of relationships or the fluidity of romantic love. The play doesn't challenge social norms as much as it flaunts a fantasy scenario in which these social norms don't even exist, a clever way to be "risqué" without directly grapp ...more
Anthony Helm
Dec 07, 2016 Anthony Helm rated it really liked it
I was surprised to discover that, despite its age, "Design for Living" is astonishingly contemporary in terms of its themes, and must have been quite shocking for its time (early 1930s). In particular, while relationship stories are nothing new, that this play tackles the feelings and complexities of a three- or even four-way relationship, along with aspects of love that are not gender-specific, was not something I suspected. It also features a strong female role and it quite humorous as well. T ...more
Aug 16, 2008 Brent rated it it was amazing
An uninhibited account of a pansexual love triangle. Brutal at times, but mostly amusing, Coward celebrates (or parodies?) money, success and emotional & sexual greed.

I have to admit I may have fallen in love with this because of the cast when I first saw it on Broadway: Alan Cumming, Jennifer Ehle and Dominic West.

Definitely an entertaining read.
Mar 22, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it
A fantastically fun play. it is partly predictable, but it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch these characters discover happiness. I wont say too much (I don't want to oversell it because it is a small delicate play): just read it.
Apr 30, 2013 Mona rated it liked it
Didn't really resonate with me and I found most of the characters annoying rather than endearing. Maybe if I saw it on stage I could appreciate more Coward's witty dialogues.
Feb 16, 2013 jenn rated it liked it
Shelves: fiftyfiftyme, 2013
I kind of wish I had read this at a time (either in world history or my life) when it would have scandalized me.
Jul 03, 2015 George rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not the best coward. Okay though.
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Aug 14, 2012
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Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English actor, playwright and composer of popular music. Among his achievements, he received an Academy Certificate of Merit at the 1943 Academy Awards for "outstanding production achievement for In Which We Serve."
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“Success is far more perilous than failure, isn’t it? You’ve got to be doubly strong and watchful and wary.” 7 likes
“The human race is a letdown, Ernest — a bad, bad letdown. And I’m disgusted with it. It thinks it’s progressed, but it hasn’t. It thinks it’s risen above the primeval slime, but it hasn’t. It’s wallowing in it. It’s still clinging to us, clinging to our hair and to our eyes and to our souls. We’ve invented a few things that make noises, but we haven’t invented one big thing that creates quiet. Endless, peaceful quiet. Something to pull over us like a gigantic eiderdown, something to deaden the sound of our emotional yellings and screechings and suffocate our psychological confusions.” 2 likes
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