One of Noel Coward’s greatest triumphs is the comedy Private Lives. Over the years it has been performed countless times. Most recently, a revival of the play, starring British thespians Alan Rickman and Lindsey Duncan, was mounted on Broadway. Now Olney Theatre Center is taking a crack at it. The result is a show that is mostly successful despite a few flaws in its rather stylized façade.
The production is certainly lovely to look at. Robin Stapley has designed a wonderful set which utilizes the Olney’s space well. The famous balcony design is simple yet classic and the set in the second act is especially grand. Costume designs by Nanzi Adzima are rich and elegant; the pieces designed for the character of Amanda are quite stunning at times.
The play is directed by Richard Romagnoli, who guides the show well even though it is occasionally with a heavy hand. He leads an appealing cast headed up by Olney vets Valerie Leonard and Paul Morella (both pictured at right). Ms. Leonard is the quintessential Amanda. She is smart, sexy and chic and her delivery is right on the mark. Ms. Leonard seems to have been born to play this part.
Mr. Morella, who has given many excellent performances around the area, is not quite as effective as Elyot. His aggressive performance style is a bit too overwhelming for the role. However, Morella does have some very nice moments in the second act, and the chemistry between him and Ms. Leonard is undeniable.
Gillian Shelly and James Slaughter play the couples’ cuckolded spouses. Both are very entertaining, but it is Slaughter who has truly mastered his role. Ms. Shelly makes a good effort but overplays her hand at times.
The play itself is a fun and sophisticated piece that shows off
Coward’s sensibilities. His dialogue is sharp and witty. It is no wonder
that this play has found a life numerous times since its Broadway debut in
the 1930s. Although Olney’s production of this classic is far from
perfect, it does make for an enjoyable theatrical experience. Private
Lives runs at the Olney Theatre Center through June 29th.
Olney Theatre Center