'Design for Living' lives again; 'Hurlyburly' is confused comedy; Design for Living
New York More than 50 years after they created a Broadway sensation, the flippant misfits of Noel Coward's ''Design for Living'' are back in town for their first local reunion. Sexual perversity in Paris, London, and New York of the 1930s may seem tame enough to shock-hardened spectators of the 1980s. But the cast directed with bustling energy by George C. Scott carries the Coward torch with zest and determination as the trio once more battles its contrary way to a hysterical reconcilation, proving that an amoral design for loving can be a sleek design for comedy. Author-director Coward wrote ''Design for Living'' for a legendary threesome that would rate as megastars in today's theatrical firmament: himself and his friends Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. If legends are not being rewritten at the Circle in the Square, the comedy has at least happily been entrusted to three exceptionally attractive and well-versed players. Jill Clayburgh's Gilda is not merely sexy and volatile. She can be sweetly feminine.She is a woman struggling both to find herself and to discover where she belongs in this Coward triangle. In more than one respect, Gilda is the odd person out. Miss Clayburgh grasps the deeper as well as the more superfically amusing aspects of her dilemma. The artists in (and out of) Gilda's turbulent life are played with ardor intermingled with moments of pain and dismay: Frank Langella is Otto, the rising painter, and Raul Julia is the mercurial Ernest, the rising playwright. Mr. Scott appears to have directed the revival as much for realism as for stylish artifice. Although style is certainly not lacking, the vitality with which this ''Design for Living'' is played by Mr. Langella, Mr. Julia, and Miss Clayburgh substantiates rather than diminishes its comedy and pathos. ''Design for Living'' is concerned with more than just romantic and sexual partnerings in the context of social satire. Among other things, it is also a play about success: the struggle to achieve it, enjoy it, survive it, and avoid losing it. (Coward himself would experience the gamut.) On the lighter side, there are all the characteristic Cowardisms: wordplays, language plays, elaborate bits of geographical nonsense, and parodies of reviews. Even the absurd exchanges about rice pudding are not just culinary padding. Essential to the proceedings is Richard Woods as an avuncular Ernest Friedman , with whom Gilda finds a brief refuge in wedlock. His kindness ill rewarded, his moral sense outraged, he discovers the unimportance of being Ernest among these heartless designers. For human props, count on a comic charwoman (Helena Carroll) and a covey of bemused guests (Lisa Kirk, Robertson Carricart, and Anne Swift). Arthur French butlers unobtrusively. In his three settings - Paris studio, London flat, and New York penthouse - Thomas Lynch has made ingenious use of the Circle in the Square stage. The revival has been handsomely costumed by Ann Roth and beautifully lighted by Marc B. Weiss. The incidental songs are by Noel Coward. Who else? Hurlyburly; Play by David Rabe. Starring William Hurt, Judith Ivey, Harvey Keitel, Cynthia Nixon, Jerry Stiller, Christopher Walken, Sigourney Weaver. Directed by Mike Nichols. ''Hurlyburly'' is a horror comedy about the disorderly existence of four males who inhabit the fringes of the Hollywood scene. Separated from their wives and families, these perpetual adolescents live lives of noisy dissipation, dispute, and disarray. The central character in David Rabe's portrait of confusion is Eddie (William Hurt), whose addiction to drugs and alcohol aggravates an already misanthropic nature. Eddie can rant hysterically over the threat of the neutron bomb. But when a woman friend who has been pushed out of a moving car by the psychopathic Phil (Harvey Keitel) arrives on his doorstep covered with bruises, Eddie remains totally unconcerned about her plight. The producers of ''Hurlyburly'' have assembled an all-star cast and superstar director Mike Nichols - attracted no doubt by Mr. Rabe's demonstrated talent for vivid character creation, dialogue spinning, and comic invention. The author does not disappoint them, and they do not disappoint their public. (The play was sold out for weeks in advance when it opened at the Promenade Theatre.) But for the spectator seeking some clarity amid the confusion and the obscenities, ''Hurlyburly'' is a disappointment - and not alone because Mr. Rabe goes in for a good deal of what one character calls ''blah, blah, blah.'' Indeed , he goes on for some three hours. At one point, Eddie sums up his position with: ''I don't know what I mean but I know what I'm saying.'' Amid all its mordancy, the script is not above attempting to rationalize Eddie's motivation with a cliche and to humanize Phil with a piece of bathos. Under Mr. Nichols's direction, Mr. Hurt meets the challenges of an almost impossible role by making Eddie believable, if not wholly understandable. Besides those already mentioned, the excellent cast includes Christopher Walken as Eddie's sardonic Hollywood Hills housemate, Jerry Stiller as a cheerful jerk, Sigourney Weaver as an undiscriminating photojournalist, Judith Ivey as a floozy , and Cynthia Nixon as a teen-age drifter. — Comedy by Noel Coward. Starring Jill Clayburgh, Raul Julia, Frank Langella. Directed by George C. Scott.