Review: PRIVATE LIVES at Catherine B. Berges Theatre At COCA

Marital Bliss Turns to Marital Hiss with The Rep's Revival of Private Lives

By: Oct. 13, 2022
Review: PRIVATE LIVES at Catherine B. Berges Theatre At COCA
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The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' mainstage season continues with Noël Coward's comedy of manners, Private Lives.

Set in 1930s France, this scathing view of Britain's upper-class was originally written as a vehicle for Coward's muse, Gertrude Lawrence. Filled with tension, it profiles the vulgarity of the British aristocracy via a relentless joust between a couple whose abusive personalities make them toxic for each other and their former paramours.

Every couple quarrels, but not like Amanda and Elyot. That's why they got divorced. Volatile and visceral, their marriage was an endless barrage of insults and anger. Five years later, they have moved on.

Both recently remarried, Amanda and Elyot are each enjoying a romantic honeymoon with their new partners, the boorish Victor and the gauche Sibyl. However, their happiness is short-lived after Elyot discovers that the woman occupying the adjacent room is his ex-wife.

Face-to-face for the first time in half a decade, they share cocktails and converse about their lives together. Nostalgia turns to passion as they realize they still have feelings for each other. Spurred on by their rediscovered passion, they flee to Paris, leaving their new spouses in the lurch.

But renewing their relationship is not as easy as expected. Despite using a safe word to prevent their arguments from getting out of hand, the couple still fights, ceaselessly. Making matters worse is Elyot's drinking, which when partnered with Amanda's temper, leads to endless rows filled with vitriol, insults, and sometimes, violence.

Having fled their marital obligations, Elyot and Amanda 's extravagant life is again filled with tantrums and bombastic outbursts of verbal abuse. Even though their constant bickering masks an understanding that they are somehow meant for each other, the couple dreads the day when Victor and Sibyl will find them. And when they do, all Hell breaks loose.

This superb production, smartly directed by Meredith McDonough, pulls no punches in depicting the intense passion and constant divisiveness that haunts Amanda and Elyot's relationship. Alternating between sexually charged and emotionally abusive, the complex dynamics of their relationship never make the audience feel comfortable.

This entertaining and sharp sparring match features a tremendous ensemble. Stanton Nash's Elyot is an arrogant cad whose unchecked alcoholism destroys the lives of those around him. Nash's powerful portrayal layers his selfishness with profound personal insecurity.

Amelia Pedlow also shines as Amanda. Mixing smoldering sensuality with vulnerability, she goes toe to toe with Nash in depicting a couple in love and at war. Her crackling performance is brimming with an aloof and haughty edge, making Amanda unlikeable yet compelling.

Appearing initially as pedestrian and dim, Kerry Warren's Sibyl Chase has the most character development throughout the play. Whether deliriously happy or raging with fury, Warren uses a range of emotions to shine in the role.

Also exceptional is Carman Lacivita, whose portrayal of the jilted Victor underscores his class stature as more of an everyman than Elyot. Despite the constant shouting of his castmates, Lacivita's performance is more nuanced than his costars, giving his character a more sympathetic demeanor.

McDonough's exceptionally intense production keeps Coward's sophistication and wit intact, allowing audiences to reflect on how the flaws and moral bankruptcy of these characters remain relevent today.

Gritty and unnerving from start to finish, The Rep's Private Lives goes the distance in delivering raw emotion.

Private Lives plays at the Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA through October 23rd. For more information, visit www.repstl.org




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