What: Play by Noel Coward, directed by Luke Yankee, presented by International City Theatre
Where: Center Theatre, 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
When: Tomorrow at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Through September 18.
Tickets: Thursday $37, Friday-Sunday $44
Information: (562) 436-4610, www.internationalcitytheatre.org
By John Farrell
Nothing speaks for Noel Coward like “Private Lives,” his extraordinarily witty, extraordinarily improbable and extraordinarily delicious comedy from 1930 that has been revived by International City Theatre in a brightly mounted, sharp-looking production at the Center Theatre in Long Beach.
Coward himself starred in the original 1930 production alongside Gertrude Lawrence, and every line sparkled with Coward’s brittle and sometimes misogynist humor, from the remark that “some women need to be struck regularly, like gongs,” to the wry remark about the “potency of cheap music” when one of Coward’s own songs is played by a distant orchestra.
The play is about Elyot Chase (Freddie Douglas) and his ex-wife Amanda Prynne (Caroline Kinsolving) who both on their second honeymoons, having been divorced from each other for five or so years after a very stormy marriage. They meet quite by accident when they are each on their second honeymoons, Elyot with his new wife Sibyl Chase, (Jennice Butler,) Amanda with her new husband Victor Prynne (Adam J. Smith.) The respective honeymoon suites share adjacent balconies but the couple manage inadvertently to avoid each other until Amanda, in a double-take, spies Elyot in her compact’s mirror. The two soon find that they are still in love, despite the years, and run off together, abandoning their new spouses. It turns out they are still in love, in the bad old way, and Sibyl and Victor finally corner them in Amanda’s Paris apartment, where their relationship begins to unravel again.
In the ICT Version Elyot Chase, Coward’s role, is played by Freddy Douglas who, if he doesn’t quite have Coward’s presence does have a wonderful and wonderfully trained speaking voice, capable of making every scintillating syllable count. Kinsolving is a less effective stand in for Lawrence. She looks every inch the wonderfully attractive woman who still inspires Elyot’s love, (and she look stunningly lovely in Costume Designer Kim DeShazo’s costumes,) but Director Luke Yankee apparently couldn’t quite get her to be as clear-voiced as Douglas. Their chemistry is near-perfect but their love-making, and love-fighting, is sometimes damaged by Kinsolving’s rapid speaking.
Butler’s Sibyl is a lovely flirt, but hardly in the same category as Amanda, a light-weight personally who comes across, as she should, as not quite up to Elyot’s standard. Smith’s Victor is very upright, very sober (except for those cocktails) and just the kind of man you would never imagine Amanda marrying: invariably safe and solid, without any sense of adventure at all, as British as a London Post Box and just about as exciting.
In a small but interesting role is Wendy Cutler, as the French maid Louise whose abrasive accent shows up Victor and whose antics include a piano-side pratfall that may actually have been an accident.
The set, designed by Kurt Boetcher, is an elegant and inspired affair: two large balconies looking out over the Mediterranean in Act I and easily dissolved into Amanda’s Paris Apartment in Act II. Plenty of room as the actors manage to avoid one another for the first half of the first act becomes an intimate flat (with record player and record to smash over Elyot’s head) in the second.
As effective as Amanda and Sibyl’s lovely period dresses are (especially those worn on their respective wedding days,) the other costumes are just not as good. Perhaps Elyot and Victor would wear business suits, but hardly the really boring business suits they do wear, with matching sham handkerchiefs in their pockets and, despite the fact that both men are slim, no waistline at all. This may have been the look in 1930, but it is hard to imagine Noel Coward's Elyot in so charmless a suit.
Those quibbles aside, “Private Lives” is, over 80 years later, still a biting and hilarious (and slightly frivolous) play. A lot has happened since then, wars and the end of Empire, but there is still charm in hearing Amanda and Elyot trying to figure out their emotional lives in the sharply biting language that is the play's endearing and enduring best feature.
John Farrell is a Long Beach theater critic. More of his work can be found at email@example.com.