There are certain pieces of drama that shock you into recognizing the limits of your taste and experience.
Certain plays, such as Noël Coward's masterful 1933 comedy "Design for Living," contain the DNA of many things you may have imagined were sui generis, but are now revealed to be pale impressions of superior source material.
For a generation raised on "Will & Grace," "Sex and the City" or "Girls," the Irish Classical Theatre Company's consummate production of the play might seem like a bucket of cold water dumped on your generation's idea of itself. The play was radical at the time of its writing and remains so now for its honest presentation of fluid sex and sexuality among friends. Viewing it in 2017 serves as a reminder of how much more conservative society has become since the 1930s.
This production, directed by Katie Mallinson and starring an incandescent Kate LoConti as the gravitational center of a small galaxy of lovers, is an enchantment from start to finish. And though entire rows of patrons overstuffed from their Curtain Up! dinners nodded off during its three-plus hours on opening night, the attentive and properly caffeinated viewer will find something to savor in every last line.
The story concerns a love triangle among Gilda (LoConti) and her close friends/lovers Otto (Adriano Gatto) and Leo (Ben Michael Moran). In scene after glowing scene, they flirt and argue with one another, cycling in and out of love, affection and lust as if playing some sort of card game. Both Gatto and Moran are magnetic in their roles, each of them alternating between neurosis and lasciviousness in ways unique and inventive. They ricochet against LoConti's charming characterization of Gilda in a series of rat-a-tat comic exchanges.
Some secondary characterizations lack the ease and confidence of the central trio, and some accent work remains to be done. But rarely has the Irish Classical opened its season in such a scintillating way. The production is a delight.
3.5 stars (out of four)
"Design for Living," a comedy by Noël Coward, runs through Oct. 8 in the Irish Classical Theatre Company's Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. Tickets are $20 to $45. Call 853-4282 or visit irishclassicaltheatre.com.