In this effervescent comedy, once-married Elyot and Amanda—now honeymooning with new spouses at the same hotel—reignite the old spark and impulsively elope … only to wonder a few days later whether love, jealousy or anger is the hotter passion. Running time approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission.
By Lorraine Dusky
The East Hampton & The Southampton Press
Noël Coward’s frothy mélange of the high life and acerbic wit is Hampton Theatre Company’s send off to summer at the Quogue Community House. A foursome of actors that have worked together well before—Rosemary Cline, Andrew Botsford, Matthew Conlon and Rebecca Edana—shine in one of Coward’s best plays, “Private Lives.”
This is English satire at his best. Droll and brittle spouses—Ms. Cline and Mr. Botsford as the leads, Amanda and Elyot—go at each other with white-hot fury, no fangs recoiled, always ready to give as well as each gets. Not that they don’t love each other, oh, they do, but they just can’t help themselves finding the pinprick that becomes a stab wound that leads to one more bleeding fracas. It’s the flapper era of the ’30s when women characters were written imbued with strong mettle and pizazz, and Coward knew how to do that with relish.
Things start off with an improbable set up as the divorced Amanda and Elyot discover they are honeymooning five years after their divorce with their new spouses in adjoining hotel rooms in Deauville. Each has married a totally ordinary kind of person—Amanda is there with a pipe-smoking country squire Victor (Mr. Conlon), and Elyot has his ladylike English rose Sibyl (Ms. Edana). Paired as such, Amanda and Elyot are destined to have normal, peaceful lives with their new partners. But “normal” is what we know both Elyot and Amanda will find stultifying.
Before the wedding night is over and the new marriages (supposedly) consummated, Amanda and Elyot will find their flame still burns brightly, and they run off together to Paris, where Amanda conveniently has an apartment. The others will find out soon enough they have been jilted. End of Act One.
But Act Two reveals soon enough that life for Amanda and Elyot is less than bliss—passion is interruptus with the speed of a quick riposte. Fisticuffs sometimes follow as satire rolls into farce.
At some point, Elyot brings up that they are not living in sin according to the Catholic Church—since Catholics don’t recognize divorce, they are still married in the eyes of the church. Amanda points out they that they aren’t Catholic, but Elyot nonetheless notes, that “it’s nice to think they’d sort of back us up.”
In the general folderol of their conversation, the topic veers to numbers of liaisons after their divorce; Elyot makes a fuss over Amanda’s flippancy regarding hers. His affairs don’t matter, he says, because “I’m a man.” A second later he says, “It doesn’t suit women to be promiscuous.” She retorts: “It doesn’t suit men for women to be promiscuous.” Notably, Coward made Amanda’s last name “Prynne,” a surname shared with poor, shamed Hester of “The Scarlet Letter.”
Who can resist such wit? Not me. Ms. Cline and Mr. Botsford have handled tart dialogue before with the piquancy it demands, and here under the taut and swift direction of George A. Loizides, they do not let us down. Both gifted comic actors, they play extremely well against each other. Mr. Conlon and Ms. Edana are rather the fools out-to-lunch here, but before the end they will have their own opportunity to devolve into a well-suited match made by happenstance.
Diana Marbury makes a brief appearance as Amanda’s maid, muttering in French her disapproval of the whole affair. Teresa LeBrun has outfitted everyone in swanky period dress.
This naughty second scene—where both Amanda and Elyot, still married to others, canoodle in silk pajamas and never go out, even at night, was considered risqué in England by the standards of 1930, when the play was first produced there. Coward pled his case to the censor by acting it out himself, not a trial for him, as he had essentially written the role of Elyot for himself. The London three-month run Coward agreed to be in—he hated long theater runs—sold out in a week. His pal, the celebrated actress Gertrude Lawrence, was Amanda, and the role seems to have been written for her, since a record of their sparring even before the play opened is well recorded in the voluminous telegrams she sent him. When she first read the play, she wrote him: “there’s nothing wrong with it that can’t be fixed.” He telegraphed back that the only thing that was going to be “fixed” was her performance.
Since then as everyone knows, “Private Lives” has been done a zillion times, had Broadway revivals every so often with actors ranging from Tallulah Bankhead to Elizabeth Taylor, won several awards, been made into a successful movie, and been a mainstay of summer stock and regional theater. It’s no wonder. The writing’s too delicious to resist, strong, stringent roles are always in demand, and witty banter between men and women as equals are beloved with good reason by audiences the world over.
Don’t expect grand themes or deep questions plunged. The fun is in the writing, whether the lovers are cooing in cohesion or racing headlong into another spat. “Private Lives” may be slick and superficial, but who cares? It makes for an amusing night out.
You don’t want to miss Hampton Theatre Company’s production of Noël Coward’s classic comedy. By Cindi Sansone-Braff
Westhampton-Hampton Bays Patch Contributor | May 26, 2019
After spending the last few months listening to The Noël Coward BBC Radio Collection of plays, which included many of his big hits, such as: “Blythe Spirit,” “Hay Fever,” “Still Life,” and “Design for Living,” I was thrilled to learn that the Hampton Theatre Company was ending their award-worthy 2018-2019 season with “Private Lives.” This crowd-pleasing, screwball comedy, which Coward penned in less than a week, can be seen at the Quogue Community Hall now until June 9th.
“Private Lives” is a 1930, three-act, romantic comedy set in France. Under George A. Loizides apt direction this classic comedy, about the foibles of French high society, truly came to life. Modern audiences will be pleasantly surprise to learn just how contemporary this play still sounds and feels.
The action revolves around a divorced couple, Amanda and Elyot, who are honeymooning with their new spouses. As fate would have it, they’re booked in adjacent hotel rooms with side-by-side balconies.
When Amanda and Elyot were married, they had a toxic and tumultuous relationship, but running into each other after five years of separation stirs up old feelings, and the intense chemistry between them is just too much for either one of them to resist.
The two sets used in this production, the hotel balcony and a Paris apartment, were artfully designed by Sean Marbury. Diana Marbury’s set decor is truly amazing, which added to the overall believability of this play. The lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski is exceptional, especially the scene where the morning sunlight pours through the Paris apartment window. The entire cast is fabulous. Andrew Botsford plays Elyot Chase, a jaded, sarcastic, and a times, mean-spirited man, whose love and passion for his ex-wife could very well prove to be the death of him. Mr. Botsford brings immense wit and charisma to this role, and with his natural charm reminded me of one of the legendary Old Hollywood actors, who we still love to watch on Turner Classics Movies.
Rosemary Cline is brilliant as Amanda Prynne, and she looked stunning in the amazing, 1930 outfits designed by Teresa Lebrun. Cline and Botsford have a natural onstage chemistry, which magnetized the audience. The fight scenes, particularly the hard-to-watch violent ones, between Amanda and Elyot, were well played, well staged, and painfully convincing. Matthew Conlon, as Victor, the jilted husband, got some of the best laughs in the play. He exhibits a great sense of comedic timing, and his expressive body language speaks volumes. Rebecca Edana is very believable as Sibyl, the young, naive wife, who gets dumped by Elyot on her honeymoon. Ms. Edana knows how to make us laugh, and she knows how to get the audience to empathize with her as well.
Diana Marbury, as Louise, the befuddled maid in Amanda’s Paris flat, delivers her bits of French dialogue with such vivid facial expressions, body language, and gestures that we don’t need to know French to know what she’s thinking, and what she’s thinking isn’t good!
You don’t want to miss this witty, well-acted, wonderful comedy! To reserve tickets, call OvationTix at 1-866-811-4111.
By Mark Segal
East Hampton Star
In “Private Lives,” as in many of his plays, Noel Coward mines complex, volatile relationships among the shallow and narcissistic for humor, pathos, and, swirling amid the surface effervescence, trenchant observations about love. The Hampton Theatre Company will open a two-and-a-half-week run of the 1930 comedy, written in three days while Coward was convalescing from influenza during travels abroad, next Thursday at the Quogue Community Hall.
“Private Lives” opens at a hotel in Deauville, France, where Elyot and Sybil are honeymooning. Unbeknownst to Elyot, Amanda, his former wife, is in the adjoining suite with her new husband, Victor. When they discover the bizarre coincidence, both Elyot and Amanda ask their new spouses to leave the hotel with them, but both refuse and storm off to dine alone, leaving Elyot and Amanda to discover they are still drawn to each other.
Act II finds Elyot and Amanda at her flat in Paris, where their passion is soon overtaken by increasingly violent arguing that escalates to physical violence. “There is very real love there,” said Andrew Botsford, who plays Elyot, “but there is so much self-love that the question is whether they can possibly really connect.”
Mr. Botsford is also one of four members of the company’s artistic committee, which selects each season’s plays with an eye toward a balance of comedy and drama and new plays and classic works. “When we get to the second and third act,” he said, “certain ideas about couples and how men and women should interact with each other resurface. There’s real care in the writing, it’s really well constructed and really well thought out, in ways that if you look at it as a champagne cocktail of a comedy, you miss that.”
The play’s first production in 1930 in London starred Coward in the role of Elyot, with his longtime co-star, Gertrude Lawrence, as Amanda and a young Laurence Olivier as Victor. While the now-familiar theatrical honors did not exist then, revivals of the play have earned Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and Olivier Awards.
A number of Coward’s plays included marital infidelity and sexual shenanigans, and during rehearsals of “Private Lives” the Lord Chamberlain labeled the second act love scene too risque. Coward pleaded his case by acting out the scene himself and managed to avoid censorship.
In today’s #MeToo climate, another aspect of the play — the physical violence between Elyot and Amanda — seems, at best, anachronistic. “We were wincing when we did the read through, because Elyot hits Amanda and she hits him back,” said Mr. Botsford.
“In the third act, Amanda says, ‘A man should never strike a woman,’ and Elyot says, ‘Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.’ How can you say this in 2019? But in the context of the play, it’s perfectly acceptable.”
In a review of a 2015 revival, Anita Gates of The New York Times cited as a sign of Coward’s theatrical genius that he could “write a story heavy on spousal abuse that still plays, without offense, 85 years later.” To Amanda’s credit, she responds to the “gong” comment with a knee to Elyot’s groin and a broken record over his head.
The cast of the Hampton Theatre Company production features, in addition to Mr. Botsford, Rosemary Cline as Amanda, Matthew Conlon as Victor, Rebecca Edana as Sybil, and Diana Marbury as the maid in Amanda’s Paris flat. Mr. Botsford and Ms. Kline have been acting together in different contexts ever since the company began 34 years ago. “This is cast perfectly for us,” he said. “Our experience acting together adds layers of stuff that are perfect for the play.”
George Loizides directs. Set design is by Sean Marbury, lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski, sound by Seamus Naughton, and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.
Performances will take place Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2:30, with an additional matinee set for June 8. Tickets are $30, $25 for senior citizens (except Saturday evenings), $20 for those under 35, and $10 for students.
By Michelle Trauring
Director George Loizides calls them his “A-Team” — their names borderline hallmarks, instantly recognizable to the Quogue theater crowd and beyond.
They are not just a cast of seasoned actors. They are fixtures of the Hampton Theatre Company’s 35-year run, and an immediate draw for Loizides, he said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, 50 years, and I always enjoy working with Hampton Theatre Company, whether I’m acting or directing,” Loizides said. “You know when you play a sport like tennis with somebody who’s a little bit better than you, and your game gets a little bit better? Well, that’s how I feel when I work with HTC. My game’s better because I’m playing with people whose games are a tad better than mine, maybe.”
He is referring to Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, Matthew Conlon, Rebecca Edana and Diana Marbury, the stars of “Private Lives,” opening Thursday, May 23, as the Hampton Theatre Company’s fourth and final play of the 2018-2019 season.
“It’s probably the seminal comedy for bad manners. It’s hilarious,” Loizides said. “The humor is there in the language, the characterizations, the physicality, the action, but I think there’s also a pretty good message, too, about the complexities of trying to be in love and being allowed to be yourself and be in love. I think that’s one of the reasons it still is popular as it is.”
For two weeks in 1930, a flu-ridden Coward spent much of his convalescence sketching out “Private Lives” in his head, ultimately writing the script in four days from Shanghai, China.
“He wrote this at a, really, not so great time in history,” Loizides said. “America was at economic collapse, which affected the rest of the world. Fascism was brewing in Europe and Germany. And he writes this piece that, in a way, says, ‘Grab your fun while you can because you don’t know what’s coming,’ and it’s hilarious. The characters are so despicable, but you like them. It’s like the ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ of 1930.”
Set in a hotel in Deauville, France, the comedy revolves around two couples — Elyot and Sybil Chase, and Amanda and Victor Prynne — who are honeymooning in adjacent rooms. All seems innocent enough, except Elyot and Amanda have been married once before, to each other, and inevitably bump into one another on their neighboring balconies.
“From there, it’s like you’re lighting a fuse,” Loizides said. “You’re waiting for this fuse to burn down and all of a sudden there’s going to be this big change and this big explosion. That first act really grabs the audience, and then the second and third acts are the payoff. Nobody writes like Noël Coward.”
And for Loizides — who directed “Private Lives” twice before in 1997 and 2006 — no one has acted this play quite like the Hampton Theatre Company cast. With Botsford and Edana as the Chases, Cline and Conlon as the Prynnes, and Marbury as Louise, the maid in Amanda’s Paris flat, they bring a certain level of maturity and understanding to the play, he said, landing “a cut above most other theater groups.”
“They just seem to get it a little bit more,” he said. “You’re working with people in the know, and we’re all friends, so you don’t have to break through. You don’t have to cut a hole in the wall to get inside with what these people think and what they may do. You have an in on that already. It makes it more fun, because you’re comfortable, and sometimes it’s challenging.”
Rehearsals began in mid-April, marking a reunion of sorts for Botsford, Cline, Conlon, and Edana, who all closed last season together with the final show, “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” Their relationships run deep, several of the actors having directed one another over the decades — Loizides included, he said.
“Good work is gonna happen with this group. I always know it’s gonna happen,” he said. “It might not be an easy path to get there, but I know it’s gonna happen. And, to me, if people leave the theater and they had a great time and they laughed and they feel good, I think that’s a pretty damn good thing to have happen, and I think we need more of that, especially these days. If that’s what they bring away, I’m a happy guy.”
Hampton Theatre Company will open “Private Lives,” its fourth and final play of the 2018-2019 season, on Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. at Quogue Community Hall, located at 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue. Additional performances will be held on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through June 9, with another matinee performance on Saturday, June 8.
Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors, $20 for under age 35 and $10 for students. For more information, call (866) 811-4111