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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

KJ Sanchez Brings Spanish Passion to
Noël Coward's Private Lives

Two River Theatre Associate Artistic Director KJ Sanchez has transferred the setting of Noël Coward's 1930 classic British comedy Private Lives from Deauville and Paris (France) to Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires (Argentina). Although the change in setting is not always felicitous, it does ultimately revitalize the play, thanks to a passionate and hilarious performance by Triney Sandoval. Trading in one stereotype for another, Sandoval has turned Elyot from a brittle and supercilious Englishman into a hot-blooded, machismo fueled Argentinean.

Five years after their divorce, Amanda and Elyot have each remarried. As fate would have it, Amanda and her new husband Victor and Elyot and his new wife Sybil are honeymooning at the same beach hotel. Upper class bohemians, Amanda and Elyot are each discontent with their conventional new spouses. Their love for one another is rekindled when they meet on their adjoining hotel balconies. Within minutes, Amanda and Elyot scamper off to her apartment in Buenos Aires, abandoning their new mates on their wedding night.

Act two finds Amanda and Elyot in Amanda's Buenos Aires apartment a few evenings later. They are hilariously and tempestuously engaged in their newly revived love-hate relationship. As the act concludes, an epic, smash the furniture, physical battle ensues in the midst of which Victor and Sybil arrive on the scene. Without a second intermission, (the arrival of a German maid and her restoration of physical order to the apartment serves as segue) the third act depicts the hilarious "morning after" during which matters are drolly sorted out.

KJ Sanchez has dumped the usually employed Noël Coward music (his waltz "Someday I'll Find You" sung by Gertrude Lawrence was introduced in this play) and set her Argentinean Private Lives to a Latin beat, adding entertaining Tangos for both Amanda and Elyot (romantic) and Victor and Sybil (comedic). Coward's satirized attitudes of the British Amanda and Elyot luxuriating across the channel in the perceived continental sophistication of France while their more conventional new spouses wear their English bourgeois morality on their sleeves has been watered down to a comic conflict of a pair of passionate lovers at odds with their dowdy conventional second spouses. In the addition to the changing of place names and people names (the names of those appearing on stage have not been de-Anglicized), there have been a number of adjustments in the script to accommodate its new setting. Despite the clear enunciation of the cast, initially there is a bit of difficulty in following the flow of the dialogue as the Spanish accents and rhythms that are employed undermine Coward's arch British rhythms.

However, there is much more at work here. KJ Sanchez has cast Spanish-accented Latino actors (I would not doubt it if any or all of the accents have been adopted by the actors for this production) and directed them to project hot-blooded, down-to-earth passion in exaggerated comic style. It is by jettisoning clipped, brittle and fey in favor of exaggerated machismo that KJ Sanchez and her cast have brought a revitalizing sense of low brow fun to Coward's high brow creation.

Triney Sandoval is flat out hilarious as a ridiculously macho Elyot. He so richly captures this traditional comic archetype that even when this interpretation is at odds with the script, it adds to the evening's hilarity. For example, when Amanda offers to protect Elyot from Victor, Elyot responds, "If he hits me, I'll scream." This line better suited to Noël Coward than it is to Sandoval, but takes on a new comic meaning in the latter's hands. Furthermore, when Elyot imagines Victor as being dumpy, one can only amusedly think, "hey, squat guy, you are more than a full head shorter than your Amanda, how can you even bring up the subject of another guy being 'dumpy'?." Sandoval's Elyot is a delightful breath of fresh air here.

The curvaceous Sheila Tapia's Amanda will never be mistaken for the Amanda of Gertrude Lawrence (or even Tammy Grimes, for that matter). Tapia brings a practiced, confident sexuality to Amanda which makes her the perfect foil for Sandoval's bumptious machismo. The pair are ably supported by Maria Parra (Sibyl) and Nicholas Urda (Victor). The conventional morality of the abandoned spouses carries over intact to their new nationality. As the beleaguered German maid Louise, Katharine McLeod turns in a very amusing cameo performance.

Set Designer Wilson Chin has designed a solidly conventional, nicely playable set with some Spanish flourishes. Nicki Hernandez-Adams' spiffy costumes are most potent in the distinction which they draw between Amanda and Sybil. For openers, Hernandez-Adams has designed a sleek, silver evening gown for Amanda, and a heavily ruffled pink cocktail dress for Sybil. By the way, am I the only one who thinks "tin foil" when I see a silver dress onstage?

It is a particular pleasure to view these talented Latino artists revitalize the classic Private Lives by incorporating aspects of their own culture into it.

Private Lives continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday-Saturday 8 p.m./ Sunday 7:30 p.m./ Matinees: Tuesday 10 a.m.; Wednesday 1 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 3 p.m.) through Sunday, May 31, 2009 at the Two River Theatre Company, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Box Office: 732-345-1400; online:

Private Lives by Noël Coward; directed by KJ Sanchez

Louise……………………Katharine McLeod
Sybil………………………………Maria Parra
Elyot………………………...Triney Sandoval
Amanda………………………….Sheila Tapia
Victor…………………………..Nicholas Urda

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