Expert Cast Sparkles in Private Lives
This often-produced comedy tells the story of Amanda and Elyot who were divorced five years previous. Both have just acquired new spouses, and are honeymooning in adjoining hotel suites in Deauville. The "sophisticated" pair are clearly not particularly enamored with their stodgy new spouses. Encountering one another on their adjoining terraces, Amanda and Elyot take but a few scant minutes to realize that they are still in love and stealthily go off together to Amanda's atelier (at least it looks like one, as beautifully designed in burgundy by James Wolk) in Paris. End of Act One.
Act Two is a divertissement within a divertissement. It is a few nights later in Amanda's Paris atelier, and it almost entirely consists of Amanda and Elyot loving and quarreling with one another. They bring full passion and extravagance to these, for them, intertwined behaviors. In what is easily Private Lives' best scene, their session ends up in a knock-down, drag-out physical brawl which ends with the entry of the deserted newlyweds who have tracked Amanda and Elyot. Brilliantly staged by Paul Mullins and Fight Director Rick Sordelet and expertly executed by actors Caralyn Kozlowski and Scott Barrow with caution thrown to the wind, this sequence is flat out hilarious. Act Three depicts the following morning during which matters are neatly wrapped up as a French maid, on hand to provide additional humor, disdainfully puts the atelier back in order.
Private Lives is sheer artifice. It is not about relationships, marriage, social class or anything resembling reality. It is all about the urbane wit and wordplay of Noel Coward. It is also a vehicle for two actors to give showcase performances delivering bright, brittle and exuberant dialogue. Originally, both in London and on Broadway, Elyot and Amanda were played by Coward himself and Gertrude Lawrence. Subsequent Broadway productions have starred Tallulah Bankhead and Donald Cook, Tammy Grimes and Brian Bedford, Maggie Smith and John Standing, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Joan Collins and Simon Jones, and Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman.
Drawing on the Shakespeare Theatre's outstanding repertory company, Director Paul Mullins has assembled a deft and talented young cast which has both the expertise and physical energy to fully realize the wit and physical farce of Private Lives. Caralyn Kozlowski's Amanda combines elegant style with an air of abandon to both engage and amuse her audience. Scott Barrow projects a Cary Grant-like elegance and vocal style well suited to garnering Elyot's laughs and maximizing his likeability. Robert Gomes as Victor, the abandoned bridegroom, captures the foolishness and ineffectuality which make him a perfect foil. Charlotte Parry brings a sense of decency to the role of the abandoned bride Sibyl, capturing the squareness which ticks off Elyot. Mary Dierson is extremely funny as the French maid.
More than seventy-five years after Private Lives was written, the witty word play (Amanda: "Do you realize that we are living in sin?" / Elyot: "Not according to Catholics, they don't recognize our divorce") and craft of Noel Coward remain apparent. Amanda voices quite a bit of wisdom when she opines, "I think very few people are normal deep down in their private lives." On the other hand, although Amanda and Elyot are meant to be equals in their joyful contentiousness, it is readily apparent in today's enlightened environment that Elyot is a male chauvinist and easily the more contentious and overbearing of the two. Surely, Elyot's line, "Certain woman should be struck regularly like gongs" will raise hackles for some. Suffice it to say that Private Lives has hardly a serious bone in its body and burdening it with serious analysis will likely detract from your enjoyment of it. For on hand is a very fine production of a play which still has "a talent to amuse."
Private Lives continues performances (Tuesday-Wednesday 7:30 p.m./ Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m./ Saturday-Sunday 2 p.m./ Sunday 7 p.m.) through August 31, 2008 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.
Private Lives by Noel Coward; directed by Paul Mullins