Eight decades ago, in Strange Interlude, Eugene O’Neill created the longest role yet written for an actress: Nina Leeds, a woman torn between two men. Groucho Marx got the gist of it in Animal Crackers, when he observed to a couple of cuties: “We three would make an ideal couple. Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.” But O’Neill fleshed it out a bit and, as was his wont, wound up with a good five hours of unrelenting tragedy. Lynne Fontanne was cast as Nina and asked her friend Noel Coward for some advice on the role, which required him to endure two sittings of what he described as “the whole bloody nine acts of that bore.”

Five years later, Coward offered his own take on triangular couples in Design for Living, once again with Lynne Fontanne as the woman and with Alfred Lunt and Coward himself as the men. In its summer revival, the Williamstown Theatre Festival somehow...


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