Monday, June 9, 2014

Private Lives Theatre Review

Bianca Amato & James Waterston (r) shine in Private Lives

To Hell with Love

Frank Sinatra said it best, "Love is lovelier, the second time around." Noël Coward certainly thought so, when he penned Private Lives back in 1930. The three-part (two intermission) comedy pokes fun at love, marriage and relationships in general; and makes a triumphant return to the Lansburgh Theatre (now through July 13th.) This latest version, presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company rivals 1983's Broadway pairing of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton for best rendition ever. Bianca Amato & James Waterston are, in a word marvelous as Amanda & Elyot, equal parts charming, eccentric and unrepentant. Directed by Maria Aitken, STC's final show of the 2013-14 season might just be its finest.

There's an undeniable elegance throughout the play, that manages to outshine its sarcastically tongue-in-cheek wrapping. Perhaps it's the high society angle, the fussy Victor (Jeremy Webb) or the sheer excitement of watching Amato & Waterston "do battle," in between waves of passion. Whatever it is, it's a joy to behold. Set designer Allen Moyer deserves kudos as well for a simple, yet gorgeous set design... one that literally moves towards its audience at the start of each act.

Waterston, Jeremy Webb, Amato & Autumn Hurlbert (r)

Elegance and set design aside, Private Lives owes the bulk of its good fortune to the aforementioned Amato & Waterston. Not only are they a perfect match physically; but they seem to share a kindred spirit that adds gusto to even the simplest prose, such as Amanda's 'Strange how potent cheap music is.' It's a great line, granted; but Amato twists it into something downright memorable with little to no effort at all.

Webb & Autumn Hurlbert perform more than capably as jilted newlyweds, especially Hurlbert as the boisterously insecure Sibyl. Sibyl is the least held together of the quartet, but perhaps the most deserving of marriage. She's the kind of gal who has her whole life planned out to the letter; and you get the feeling she won't be easy to live with it, if things don't go her way. Elyot clearly sees it this way, breaking down on his honeymoon with inappropriate pillow talk. How inappropriate? Try 'Don't quibble Sybil,' 'If you don't stop screaming, I'm going to murder you,' and my personal favorite... 'I shall want to cut off your head with an axe!' Not exactly puppy love, is it?

James Waterston & Bianca Amato (r)

Acts 1 and 2 fly by, before Private Lives stumbles to a less than grandiose finish in the third and final act. All four players are pushed into a room with each other, and fireworks ensue. I found it all a bit overwhelming, especially when you consider how delicate and juicy the two previous acts were. Everyone fights for the good line... the timely zinger, and something gets lost (at least for me.) It's a logical conclusion to the story, but I can't help but want more of Amanda & Elyot.

Private Lives is honest, as it is ironic. Love isn't perfect, but it is fun to watch (especially whilst falling apart.) You can't help but root for Amanda & Elyot... all evidence to the contrary. It takes special actors and/or characters to evoke sympathy after ditching their respective spouses on their respective honeymoons without even leaving a note. How disrespectfully wonderful!

Grade: B (On its way to a strong B+, but the final act takes it down a notch.)