Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Shakespeare Theatre Company Private Lives

By • Jun 12th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Private Lives
Shakespeare Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through July 13th
2:30, with two intermissions
$40-$100 (Discounts Available), Plus Fees
Reviewed June 8th, 2014

If one needed an “excuse” not to be home watching the Tony Awards, nothing could serve better than a near-perfect production of Noel Coward’s comedy of unmannerly manners, Private Lives, at Shakespeare Theatre Company.

There isn’t a false note in the direction of Maria Aitkin, an acclaimed Coward actor and teacher, or in the performances of James Waterston and Bianca Amato as Elyot and Amanda. The couple had divorced five years previously and re-meet while on their honeymoons with new spouses, only to find their passions quickly rekindled. Autumn Hurlbert and Jeremy Webb, playing those spouses, the hysterical Sybil and the well-meaning but rigid Victor, ably match the leads. Even in her small role, Jane Ridley grabs and holds the stage for as long as the playwright allows her to.

It doesn’t hurt that this may be Coward’s funniest play — certainly the wit never takes a break and the barbs fly fast and furious, especially between Elyot and Amanda. They’re hopelessly in love and equally hopelessly unable to live together for very long without objects and insults being thrown. Later Sybil and Victor get drawn into the fray, but they are mere amateurs learning from the masters…

From the minute Waterston steps out on the balcony of his and Sybil’s hotel suite, you know he’s in command. Of a perfect English accent, the wit, the right look, and the bits of physical comedy later on.

Plus the actor’s chemistry with Amato’s alternatively sexy, playful, forbidding, and defiant (almost feminist) — not to mention mercurial–Amanda sizzles. From Act II, although not much of a plot is advanced, we seem to learn every nuance of romantic attraction, happy, passionate, frustrated, and miserable.

You might say Private Lives is a master class in love, so much so that we forgive Elyot and Amanda for outrageous and insensitive behavior and overlook the fact that we know nothing about them other than what we see — violations both of morality and theatrical conventions up to that point.

The play is light-hearted; you’ll likely find yourself laughing at almost every line, especially in a production as on target as this one. But you’ll also feel the reality of two people who may be more elegant and devil-may-care than we are but are still looking, underneath their acerbic, callous statements, for a true connection.

In short, Elyot and Amanda are too lovable to judge. And the more-upright Sybil and Victor come across as tedious, even as a part of us feels sorry for the awful way they’re being treated.

Beyond the underlying serious side, Private Lives is hilarious, and this production gives you plenty of cause to laugh. I’m certain many audience members would have sat through a repeat performance right away.

It is fitting that Allen Moyer’s sets — elegant in Act I, and bohemian tossed into disarray in the next two — move forward slightly as each Act begins. Like the text itself, they beckon us to enter the chaotic but endearing world of Elyot and Amanda.

This production is debuting at STC, but cut its teeth in the spring of 2012 at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, with the same cast and director.


  • Amanda: Bianca Amato
  • Sibyl: Autumn Hurlbert
  • Louise: Jane Ridley
  • Elyot: James Waterston
  • Victor: Jeremy Webb

Direction and Design

  • Director: Maria Aitken
  • Set Designer: Allen Moyer
  • Costume Designer: Candice Donnelly
  • Lighting Designer: Philip S. Rosenberg
  • Sound Design & Music Arrangements: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
  • Music Director: Barbara Irvine
  • Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
  • Fight Choreographer: Ted Hewlett
  • Head of Voice and Text (for STC): Ellen O’Brien
  • Original Casting Director: Alaine Alldaffer
  • Additional Casting, of Binder Casting: Jack Bowdan
  • Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
  • Assistant Director: Gus Heagerty
  • Production Stage Manager: Leslie Sears
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley

Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been writing features, previews, and reviews about theater and the arts for some 25 years. A native New Yorker, she is a recent transplant to Maryland.

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