NEW YORK — At the far end of the gallery, in the same glass case with Noël Coward’s Tony Award and a letter Coward wrote to a young Edward Albee, is a black-and-white photo of Harold Pinter in director mode, talking to his “Blithe Spirit” stars. It’s 1976 in London, and Maria Aitken, Pinter’s willowy Elvira, listens with a lighted cigarette in her left hand, the smoke curling upward.
Flash-forward 36 years, and Aitken is now directing Coward, too: a production of “Private Lives” at the Huntington Theatre Company, which happens to coincide with “Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward,” a major exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Slippers and silk dressing gowns, film clips and handwritten manuscripts, a Steinway baby grand with Coward sheet music open on the rack: His art and artifacts sprawl through the gallery. Near the entrance, in a cache of the playwright’s smoking paraphernalia, is a slender metal box stuffed with a dozen or so filtered white Reyno cigarettes — “original to the case,” the explanatory text notes.