Aug. 10, 2008 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
This has been an amazing summer for theatre in the Berkshires with hit after hit and reviewers scrambling for commending adjectives. Plays have swept from Feydeau farces to the tragedy of Othello and from revivals of beloved classics to runs of new experimental plays.
Now we must add to the long list of fine revivals, the Barrington Stage Company’s production of Noel Cowards’s Private Lives under Julianne Boyd’s spirited direction. As performed, the play is a sheer delight from the moment the lights go off to rise on two identical balconies of a posh hotel on the French Riviera in 1930.
On the stage right are two honeymooners, Elyot (Christopher Innvar) and Sibyl (Rebecca Brooksher). He is tall, self-assured, mature enough to be slightly bored already by his silly, blonde naïve wife’s babble and her jealous references to his previous wife, from whom he has been divorced for the past five years.
That wife Amanda (Gretchen Egolf) was, and still is, capable of giving Elyot as much as he gave her in the give-and-take of their three years of blissful/unblissful marriage.
Of course it is Amanda who appears on the second balcony on her second honeymoon accompanied by her new husband Victor (Mark H. Dold) who seems a fine up-standing blond hero, but is a bit square and unexciting, at least to deal with Amanda, a red-headed hell-cat.
By the end of the first hilarious act, Elyot and Amanda have abandoned their new spouses and are on the run for Paris where the second half of this three act play occurs.
The play from the beginning is fast-paced and from there on takes off even faster. The dialog is full of witty repartee delivered with pace and a flair for just the right innuendo.
Both Egolf and Innvar revel in it as they do with the boisterous physical antics that punctuate the brief quieter moments, ones of music, dancing, or even engaging in a sexually alluring moment of foot fettishing.
Obviously the pair are superbly cast and can do much more in the way of physical antics than the prudery of the 1930s allowed such actors as the Lunts, Gertrude Lawrence, and Coward himself to engage in. Today no audience will be shocked as the couple’s antics almost demolish the set, seeming capable of disarranging every stick of furniture on the stage with the exception of the huge grand piano that remains in place before the great windows with their passionately swaying curtains. (Settings by Karl Elgsti).
All is not mayhem to these spirited lovers. They can dance to a record as well as smash it. And they wear their blue and pink lounge garments with a his-and her-delight. Costumer Elizabeth Flanto has the period right on key, especially those of the women. Amanda’s more dashing than those of second runner, Sibyl, sweet and girlish.
Poor Sibyl, she and Victor run a poor second race although they struggle gallantly. As actors they both inhabit their roles with talent, and in the few moments when they have their own flings of indignation are believable and funny. Indeed, as played, they might evolve into a future, or might not. They are the underdogs and the alpha dogs have more fun.
A fifth cast member Tandy Cronyn also deserves praise. She is only the French maid in a cameo role but not a lowly one. Her opinions, delivered in rapid French, made perfectly clear by her body language, are decided ones, and she knows just what to do with dishes that are in the way of the tray she must set on a table.
But in the end, the play belongs to Amanda and Elyot. How lucky that it is in such good hands in the current production on the Barrington Stage. Running time is an all-too-brief two hours and eight minutes.