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Boston by Suzanne Bixby

Private Lives and
Far Away

Everything comes together so pleasingly in the Lyric Stage Company production of Noel Coward's Private Lives, it perpetuates the illusion that creating froth with sparkle, shine and intelligence is effortless. Originally written in 1929 as a star turn for himself and Gertrude Lawrence, Private Lives has endured to become Coward's most performed work despite being used as a vehicle for the likes of Tallulah Bankhead (1948), Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (1983), Joan Collins (1992) and set designer Tim Hatley (2002).

Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos avoided the pitfalls of that most recent monstrously over-produced 2002 Tony Award winning revival, by hiring a director and design team with the ideal combination of talent and taste. Responsible for the 2002 Eliot Norton Award winning production of Betrayal at the Nora Theatre, director Scott Edmiston and designers Janie Howland (sets), Karen Perlow (lights) and Gail Astrid Buckley (costumes) once more rise to the occasion to create a visual treat that is as stylish as it is serviceable.

Veloudos and Edmiston then recruited a terrific quartet of actors for the major roles who look like they've been dressing for dinner all their lives and sound like travel and trust funds are all they ever talk about. Each deftly manages to get the melody of Coward's dialogue to ride effortlessly on top of the particular rhythm that makes his or her character tick.

Private LivesShakespeare & Company's Michael Hammond (Elyot) and Boston favorite Paula Plum (Amanda) are the charming, but dangerously incendiary, bohemian lovers at the center of the piece. Long divorced, they quickly uncover still smoldering embers when they find themselves inadvertently honeymooning in adjacent suites.

With barely a twinge of quilt, they decide to rescue each other from a near brush with conventionality. Vowing to get it right this time, they head for Amanda's flat in Paris, leaving the pushy frou-frou Sibyl (Mandy Fox) and the stodgy, humorless Victor (Barlow Adamson) to fend for themselves.

Of course things take several turns for the worse up in Paris, and Elyot and Amanda have a couple of knock down, drag out fights much to the detriment of the lovely furnishings. For the actors it's like adding props and dance steps to the repartee that was only a simple Noel Coward "song" in act one. When everyone finally comes together in act three, it then becomes more like a complex Sondheim musical number where everyone has his/her own counterpart all the while keeping that melody flowing and the rhythm steady.

Private Lives now through January 31st at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston, Mass (in the YWCA Building.) Performances times are: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm with Wednesday matinees at 2pm on January 7th and January 28th only. Tickets are available at the Lyric Stage box office (617) 437-7172 or online at www.lyricstage.com.

Photo: Sheila Ferrini


Far Away

Far AwayZeitgeist Stage Company offers up the New England premiere of the provocative Caryl Churchill play Far Away at the Boston Center for the Arts now through January 24th. The original production opened to much acclaim at the Royal Court Theatre in London in late 2000 and director Stephen Daldry (An Inspector Calls) repeated his assignment for the New York Theatre Workshop two years later.

David Miller is a very visual director/designer so it's easy to see why he'd be attracted to this piece. Miller uses the space in the Black Box Theatre well and does a particularly fine job of establishing the initial bucolic image. Stars twinkling through tree branches, a simple farm table and a kindly auntie knitting in her easy chair comfort us with a false complacency.

As we jump ahead with the passage of time, the sound design (Walter Eduardo) and lighting design (Jeff Adelberg) serve the piece well, but the costumes (Loann West) don't emphasize enough the toll of events on the principal characters. The hat design must be seen to be appreciated. Enough said.

This is a difficult play and Churchill doesn't help us much. The good thing is that she has something to say, but it is extremely cryptic and ends too abruptly. The piece is about lying, brainwashing, the mobilization of forces, forging alliances, doing battle, half-hearted resistance and genocide with no explanation and no hope of salvation. What's most arresting is that Churchill uses none of these words in her play, juxtaposing a completely different vocabulary instead and invoking unexpected and surprising images to convey the atrocity of our modern war mongering in "far away" places. And she doesn't allow us to think it won't one day manage to persist here at "home" as well.

Some of Miller's choices - though brave - are questionable. The audience involvement, while a right-minded impulse, isn't totally honest because we don't actually influence the outcome. And the vivid contrast of the energy in the rest of the play with that of the most pandemic scene, while striking, serves to lessen the overall impact. I needed a greater measure of urgency and foreboding by the end of the first part and a more gripping level of fear in the last section.

I'm assuming here that Natanjah Driscoll (Joan as a child, alternating with Nicole Brathwaite), Renee Miller (Harper), Paul Rorie (Todd) and Naeemah A. White-Peppers (Joan) are all following Miller's direction precisely. The performances are honest and touching despite not going all the way out on an emotional limb.

And despite my reservations, this is a fascinating production of a fascinating play. Don't be deterred by the brevity of the piece. At only 50 minutes, it's as long as it needs to be and well worth a trip to the South End.

Far Away, now through January 24th, produced by Zeitgeist Stage Company at the BCA's Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. Tickets are $25 with a $5 discount for seniors/students and "pay what you can" performances every Thursday. Performance times are Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5 & 8pm and Sunday at 5pm & 7pm. Tickets may be purchased from the BCA Box Office at 617 426 2787 or through TheaterMania.com. For more information about Zeitgeist Stage visit www.ZeitgeistStage.com.


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Boston area.



- Suzanne Bixby



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