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Regional Reviews: Seattle

Private Lives Thrives in
Bubbly Staging at Seattle Rep

Suzanne Bouchard and Rob Breckenridge
Thanks to bubbly and stylish direction by Gabriel Barre, sumptuous and scrumptious sets and costumes, and utterly winning performances, it is easy to predict that Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of the Noel Coward classic Private Lives will wind up on many an audience member and critic's ten best list by the end of 2006. Coward's still zestful and zinger-laden dialogue and larger than life characters could scarcely have been better served than by this snappily paced revival.

When Coward's gay divorcees Amanda and Elyot both take their new spouses to the same hotel for their respective honeymoons, it doesn't take a second to discern that the plot is not the thing in Private Lives; it's the charming, yet bitchy, sometimes brittle, but never boring dialogue he gives these sparring partners. Amanda is married to the stuffy and rather dull Victor, while Elyot has wed the rather vapid if lovely Sibyl. But, once the pair discovers each other residing a mere hotel balcony apart, we know that by the play's end they are destined to be reunited, scrappily ever after.

Director Barre times this literate farce like a Swiss watch, and even when certain passages of Coward's script show their age a bit, the cast keeps the action at a jaunty trot. Suzanne Bouchard brings every ounce of her celebrated wit, style and razor sharp delivery to the role of Amanda, yet never forgets, amidst all the verbal warfare, to remind us that she is an entrancing and enchanting woman, and an addiction that Elyot will never be able to shake. Rob Breckenridge's Elyot is such a wicked bon-bon of a performance that it seems like the actor must be channeling the essence of Noel Coward himself. The lengthy mid-section of the play when Elyot and Amanda run off together to her Parisian flat (written in three acts but wisely adjusted to two here) allows the stars to show us exactly what it is that makes them mad for each other, and drives them mad about each other. There is a deftly executed song and dance to Coward's "Someday I'll Find You," which Bouchard and Breckenridge handle with charm to spare. And the battle royal that ensues between the couple (amidst a hurricane of broken phonograph records and just about everything else in the house) is farce served on a silver platter.

Coward really doesn't want us to warm much to Amanda and Elyot's new spouses, but Allen Fitzpatrick hits on the right stodgy air for Victor, though he seems a bit young for the role, and Nikki Coble's Sibyl has a grand comic trick up her sleeve, with a way of crying that sounds like a particularly grating home fire alarm and which gets funnier and funnier as she sobs on. Veteran Seattle character actress Lori Larsen scores in an amusing cameo as a disgusted French housekeeper.

Walt Spangler's sets, from his grand hotel balconies in act one to Amanda's lavishly appointed (and ultimately ravaged) flat, are as good as anything you will see anywhere, and one of the two or three best of the many fine sets I have seen on the Rep stage in the past 15 years, with a most harmonious lighting design by Howell Binkley. Elizabeth Hope Clancy's costume design is a most handsome accomplishment as well.

With a production of Private Lives this sublime, it's hard to imagine that Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence aren't gazing down from their home sweet heaven, and raising a glass of good cheer in its honor.

Private Lives runs through April 1, 2006 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre on the Bagley Wright mainstage, 155 Mercer Street in Seattle Center. For more information go on-line at

Photo © 2006 by Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes

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