I’m a big fan of Noël Coward – here’s a gay playwright who married queer wit to a penetrating understanding of human emotions. Director Richard Eyre’s breezy new production of his Private Lives largely does right by my boy Noël, although his cast sometimes plays the darker side a touch too heavily, which throws Coward’s glittering balance off a bit.
Glamorous Brits Amanda (Kim Cattrall) and Elyot (Paul Gross) have been divorced from each other for five years. Now, on honeymoons with new spouses in the South of France, they meet again on neighboring hotel balconies, rekindling their powerful love and lust for each other…and then, slowly, the things that drove them apart originally begin to creep back in.
For the most part, Catrall and Gross do a solid job of keeping the pace quick, the quips delivered with sharp timing. One trick to playing Coward, though, is not letting his incisive insight into human psychology shade too dark. He is making gimlet-eyed fun of human folly, and much of its charge comes from the tension between glittering surfaces and murky depths. Put those depths too much on display, and the energy goes slack. That happens particularly in Act III of this production. By the very end though, Catrall and Gross are back on track, and finish off the evening on an appropriately light-hearted note.
Rob Howell’s set is the production’s biggest misstep – I get the idea behind the art deco apartment in the second half, but it is so poorly executed that it undercuts the elegance that is such a crucial part of Coward’s world. This is a minor hindrance, however, and most of the time this featherweight production glides by swiftly and effervescently, just like it should.
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