By John Quinn
Review: ‘Private Lives’
Noel Coward comedy confirms: ‘love hurts’
It’s the middle of February, and we’re saturated with the icons of Valentine’s Day, but before they disappear, let all us lonesome hearts ponder how appropriate the classic depiction of love is. Ah, Cupid! You’re a fickle, irresponsible child; armed with sharp, deadly weapons, you pair up some unlikely couples!
Cupid was poaching big time in playwright Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy of manners, “Private Lives,” a play that abounds with unlikely couples. The sophisticated romp is getting a stylish production at Meadow Brook Theatre this month.
Divorcees Elyot and Amanda coincidentally book adjoining rooms in a French resort while honeymooning with their new spouses – Sybil and Victor. While Amanda and Elyot might be considered “two of a kind,” their incessant bickering broke up the marriage. The second time around, they seem to be hoping “opposites attract.” When Amanda reflects that, “I think very few people are completely normal, really, deep down in their private lives,” she is only right about herself and her ex. The new spouses are irredeemably normal, and long, happy marriages don’t look likely.
Reunited on the terrace outside their rooms, Amanda and Elyot allow the smoldering embers of their love to flare, and the duo abandon their hapless mates for a Paris flat. And that’s just the first act. Just because their sharp tempers broke them up the first time, doesn’t mean they’ve learned their lesson.
Coward implies that this mix of love and hate is the foundation of all relationships. Not that that is an original take on the battle of the sexes. What distinguishes “Private Lives” is the playwright’s impeccable sense of style, his unfailing choice of the “mot just” and the entertainment possible in two strong, articulate people finding love through incessant verbal sparring.
The Meadow Brook production is blessed with the directorial skills of Artistic Director David Regal. He and his cast keep this production crisp and modern, playing the period without falling into soggy imitations of style. While Coward’s characters can unwittingly become stereotypes – the nave and dizzy Sybil, the pompous Victor – this cast stays nicely on the side of original portrayals. A tip of the fedora is due Jerri Doll and Matthew Phenix for the extra bright spots in the second act, when the opera of argument moves from duets to trios to full-voice quartets.
But it’s the first scene of the second act that might best characterize Coward’s intent. Here we get to watch the powerful egos of Amanda and Elyot butt heads in a repetitive cycle of fighting and making up. Sarab Kamoo and Neil Necastro find a natural rhythm in the dialogue that is far more revealing than the inconsequential differences between characters. The chemistry is splendid.
“Private Lives” affirms that love conquers all. The terms of endearment Coward’s characters use are not likely to make it as a Hallmark card, but may be more realistic to the battle-scarred lover.
“Private Lives” Presented Wednesday through Sunday at Meadow Brook Theatre, Rochester, through March 6. Tickets: $20 – $36. 248-377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: This articulate classic by a master of sophistication is a welcome antidote to the “dumbing down” of the common culture.
Tidbits: News From Around Town
By Donald V. Calamia
ITEM: This April will see the opening of Second City’s 26th revue, but its first in its new home in Novi. Located at 42705 Grand River, the theater will also feature an Andiamo restaurant, The Second City Training center and the corporate division of Second City Communications.
The new production will be staged by Second City veteran Ron West and will feature returnees Margaret Exner, Shawn Handlon and Topher Owen. Joining them will be new mainstage cast members Jenny Hagel, Quintin Hicks and Tiffany Jones.
Watch future editions of Curtain Calls and Theater Events for shows dates and times.
ITEM: The Mosh Pit Theatre at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network is looking for a few good shows for its upcoming Red-Eye Late-Night Festival.
The Festival is a month-long showcase of new, experimental and artistic works that will be performed Wednesday through Saturday at 11 p.m. Four shows are needed, each running for one week only. Running times should range from 60 to 90 minutes.
Applications for consideration can be obtained by calling Isaac Ellis, The Mosh Pit’s artistic director, at 734-663-0681.
ITEM: First there were three tenors, but now there are 10! And these guys aren’t from Europe, but from Australia.
Covering classical to pop, The Ten Tenors are coming to the Royal Oak Music Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 20. From arias to ABBA, their unique style is an unparalleled fusion of artistry, musicianship and comedy.
Tickets are $47.50 to $77.50. For complete information, call 248-399-2980 or go online to http://www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.