Colonial Players Private LivesBy Betsy Marks Delaney • Sep 24th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis, MD
Through October 9th
2:30 with two 10 minute intermissions
$20/$15 Seniors and Students
Reviewed September 18th, 2010
Noel Coward’s Private Lives was first produced London in 1930. Coward directed and appeared in the production, starring as Elyot Chase opposite Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda Prynne. (Coward wrote Amanda’s character with Lawrence in mind.) Coward also directed this inaugural production, a tissue-thin comedy of manners, to mixed reviews. New York critics, a year later, were kinder and more enthusiastic, when the production was remounted on Broadway, opening again with Coward and Lawrence in the leading roles.
Colonial Players’ production is classically styled and sophisticated in performance; the cast’s English accents are precise and diction and timing seem perfect. The play opens on the shared balcony of a hotel in France. As we watch the story unfold, we learn details surrounding the incendiary first marriage of Elyot (Pat Reyolds, cool and aloof) and Amanda (Zarah Rautell, trying to appear happy with her new husband), through the eyes of their new, younger spouses, frivolous Sybil (Shirley Panek), who can’t help but be worried about the ghost of her predecessor and the effect she had on Elyot, and uptight Victor (Lawrence Griffin), worried about his formerly wild new wife. These encounters are timed so that we can feel the inevitability of the connection between the former couple.
Throughout the course of the evening we come to understand why Elyot and Amanda were forced to divorce, by seeing what happens when they’re given a second chance at love. In this day and age, the plot seems dated and out of touch with reality. Even with the premise that this is a honeymoon, these characters appear shallow and vacuous. The human connection and chemistry is missing, and the most passionate scenes seem to lack something in intensity. The comic relief of the French maid, Louise (Meg Venton) isn’t enough to make this piece of fluff a truly inspired evening of comedy. We’re left to wonder why on earth these people chose to marry at all.
In the end, the characters’ disconnection makes it hard to feel sympathy for any of them. Generally speaking, it’s a good production of a flawed script that’s out of touch with today’s reality. In the end, it’s much ado about nothing.
Barry Christy’s set is sparse and sophisticated. Stefan Mouyal’s sound design fits well within the period. Meg Venton’s costumes are generally terrific, though Amanda’s relatively modern hairstyles appear to be as lacking a bit in period presentation, a point that serves more as a distraction than it should.
About the Playwright
Mention Noel Coward, and a few words are likely to come to mind – words such as sophistication, wit, upper class manners, clever comedy. Not bad for a boy born into genteel poverty whose formal education was limited to a few years of elementary schooling at a choir school that he despised. But his driving ambition, charm and prodigious talents earned him entrée to upper class society that would normally have been closed to a young man with his upbringing. Coward was just 12 years old when he made his professional acting debut in London and just 21 in 1920 when his first full-length play, I Leave it to You, was produced on London’s West End. Ten years later, he and Gertrude Lawrence starred in Private Lives, which was an enormous success and cemented his reputation as a bright young light of the theater scene. Before his death in 1973, Coward wrote more than 50 plays, hundreds of songs, more than a dozen musical theater works, poetry, short stories and a novel.
- Sibyl Chase: Shirley Panek
- Elyot Chase: Pat Reynolds
- Victor Prynne: Lawrence Griffin
- Amanda Prynne: Zarah Rautell
- Louise: Meg Venton
- Director: Richard Wade
- Producer: Nancy Long
- Stage Manager: Mackenzie Blade
- Stage Crew: Michele Barry, Heather Quinn, Tom Stuckey
- Set Design: Barry Christy
- Lead Carpenter: Dick Whaley
- Carpenters: Jim Robinson, Ted Yablonski
- Set Painting: Heather Quinn, Dick Whaley
- Set Decoration: Barry Christy
- Lighting Design: Jeannie Beall
- Lighting Assistants: Joshua Anderson, Nathan Hawkins, Richard Koster, Heather Quinn, Tom Stuckey
- Sound Design: Stefan Mouyal
- Lighting/Sound Technicians: Nathan Hawkins, Stefan Mouyal
- Costume Design: Meg Venton
- Properties Design: Peter Branscombe
- Hair Consultant: Doug Dawson
- Choreography: Nancy Dall
- Musical Arrangements and Direction: Angela Linhardt
- Rehearsal Assistant: Angie Dey
- Special Adviser to the Director: Jean Jackson
- Production Consultant: Heather Quinn
- Play Consultant: Sharie Valerio
- Program/Poster Design: Jim Gallagher
- Photography: Colburn Images
- Program Editor: Tom Stuckey
Disclaimer: Colonial Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/5569.
Betsy Marks Delaney is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.