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Knock-down, drag-out love at the Hilberry

By |2018-01-16T05:55:06-05:00October 12th, 2006|Entertainment|

By Robert W. Bethune, guest critic

‘Private Lives’
Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Plays in repertory through Nov. 30. Tickets: $15-$28. For information: 313-577-2972 or

Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” gives us Amanda and Elyot, Sylvia and Victor, four of the most entertaining and amusing grown-up babies ever to grace a stage. Coward’s brilliant, brittle writing is an epitome of an age of crisp, flashy style. It is as glossy and scintillating as one can hope to find, but it also contains a heart both sensitive and cynical, perceptive and ultimately pessimistic.
Elyot and Amanda don’t love each other madly; insanely is a far better word. Five years previous, they tried to pretend they didn’t love each other; they divorced and married others. That pretense shatters into a spectacular shower of brittle shards the instant they look at each other again. After much commotion, they leave their spouses thoroughly infected with their own raving-mad affection. It’s a bracing combination of narcissism and devotion. Loving, witty combat can turn into a boxing match in a heartbeat.
Firmly rooted in the university, closely connected with professional theater, the Hilberry is beautifully placed to do any of the great, classic plays, especially plays like this one. With strong young talent and high-grade resources available, one expects this company to deliver the goods. In this production they do, but perhaps there is more to be had than is delivered.
Characterization and feeling are fine. I personally think Sybil is not quite the ditz we see in this production, but director James Luse and actress Tiffanie Kilgast make it work. Morgan Chard as Amanda is the centerpiece – brittle, seductive, elegant and instantly mercurial.
Michael Brian Ogden is not so much her match as her highly erratic satellite. His crazed orbit around her constantly crashes and bounces off again in yet another unexpected direction. They have an unpredictable mix of cowardice and romanticism; they are like Beatrice and Benedict on speed.
Patrick Moltane’s Victor is just as he should be – a perfect blockhead.
However, there is no such thing as having enough snap, crackle and pop when doing Noel Coward. This cast gives us just enough. We want more; we would always want more. Part of that was our fault out front. Half the crowd – the male half, mostly – wanted to be at the Tigers-Yankees game instead.
Accents are a minor problem. The posh British sounds are right, but they are not always natural speech.
The first set, the hotel, is very elegant, with a very subtle heart motif as an ironic visual joke. This is the second “Private Lives” set I’ve seen that offers a second-act set, the apartment, which I simply cannot believe belongs to Amanda. The style seems utterly unlike her, and some of the furniture is downright shabby. She wouldn’t tolerate that for a moment.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.