note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
My dad adored Noel Coward. Instead of fairy tales, he recited Noel Coward songs to me at bedtime, so I rejoice whenever I can see a Coward play. What joy to have PRIVATE LIVES back at the Lyric Stage (to the end of the month)…and what heaven to see Scott Edmiston’s naughty, hilariously prickly take on the elegant comedy. Instead of the languid delivery of an understated (oh so sophisticated) British production, Edmiston teases out the ‘vicious’ in Coward’s repartee, not so that the play has a mean-spirited bite, just a high-spirited nip at the heels. It’s a delicious ‘vicious.’ And it fits the dialogue perfectly.
Elyot (Michael Hammond) and Amanda (Paula Plum) are honeymooning at the same hotel, each with a new spouse, when they discover they share more than a balcony. The same sparks which united them five years earlier re-ignite the romance and off they steal, leaving two bewildered spouses behind. (It’s the roaring ‘20s and people were more impulsive then…so they say.)
Plum is charming and wicked and who could resist! Hammond captures that Cary Grant style of self-amusement. What fun it is watching them circle each other like prizefighters, favoring the corners of the ring. Just as delightful are the “insipid” spurned spouses. Mandy Fox’s wounded sparrow flaps about like a deranged hummingbird and Barlow Adamson, with his puffed up “rugged grandeur” gets laughs just standing still. Amy B.Corral makes the most of the flighty maid role, tripping her way into the ménage a quarte.
Everything about the production fits: Janie Howland’s sumptuous art deco sets (richly lit by Karen Perlow) and Gail Astrid Buckley’s gorgeous period costumes (especially, Sybil’s Mercury inspired hat, her pink chiffon party dress and the men’s swank wide ties). Even the phonograph record which gets stuck on “Mad about you” is sublime. Let’s face it. I’m mad about this production. It felt just like I’d “been to a marvelous party.”