BWW Reviews: Elegant PRIVATE LIVES Graces Portland Players' Stage
Noel Coward's 1930 romantic comedy is a perennial pleasure, but one which requires an impeccable sense of period style and élan. The stylish new production at Portland Players rises to this challenge with an elegant, witty, well-paced rendition of this sendup of warring couples inextricably bound by both attraction and skirmish.
Directed by Claudia Hughes, this five-character comedy of manners becomes a stylish romp with physical farce punctuated by Coward's scintillating verbal wit. Hughes imparts a gleeful air of insouciance to the production. Assisted by Paul Drinan in the fight sequences, she blocks her actors with balletic precision and perfect timing, as well as an excellent ear for the inner rhythms of the piece.
Her cast is equally at home in the material, and with only a few missteps most credible in their British delivery. The real life couple of Rebecca and Charlie Cole bring a delightful naturalness and an irresistible, self-deprecating humor to Amanda Prynne and Elyot Chase. Their chemistry is evident, as is their gift for rapid repartee. Jaimie Schwartz's Victor Prynne makes a perfect foil to Charlie Cole's ironic Elyot; Schwartz is amusingly conventional in his upper class mannerisms and appropriately befuddled by the bizarre happenings of this double honeymoon. Despite less than perfect British diction, Katie Lynn Mcdowell as Elyot's new wife, Sibyl, captures the china doll-turned-tigress quality of the character. Andrea Myles-Hunkin makes the most of her brief appearance as the sharp-tongued French maid, Louise - all bustle and bossiness.
The play's revels take place in a lavish pair of sets designed by Timothy Baker: the terrace at Deauville, which parts to reveal Amanda's well-appointed Paris apartment. The symmetry of doors in both not only facilitates the play's rapid entrances and exits, but also admirably reflects the parallel lives and situations of the plot. Florence Cooley lights the stage with a keen eye for both locales - the moonlit seaside terrace and the cozy golden-rose hued interior in the City of Lights. An occasional blackout lacks snap, but one suspects this reflects technical capabilities and not artistic choice.
Claudia Hughes's costumes are boldly evocative and complement the 30s décor. Sam Rinaldi provides a comprehensive soundscape for the comedy: background 30s tunes together with the onstage musical effects. Happily, in a theatre which can sometimes experience acoustical difficulties (especially in miked musicals), this unmiked production is a model of balance.
One is grateful to this plucky theatre troupe, not only for taking on the Noel Coward classic, but also for serving it up as an irresistible cocktail of froth and fun.
Photos Courtesy of Portland Players
Private Lives runs until April 6, 2014 at Portland Players, 420 Cottage Rd., South Portland, ME 04106 For information call 207-799-7337 or visit www.portlandplayers.org