For a comedy that’s now reached the ripe old age of seventy one, Noël Coward’s Private Lives remains as young, fresh, and lively as ever—and those in need of proof need simply check out the terrific Private Lives revival now playing at Long Beach’s International City Theatre.

As thoroughly contemporary a piece of theater as could be imagined in its 1930 debut, Private Lives has aged gracefully into a bright and witty period comedy, a look back at a gayer, more sophisticated era. Its four lead characters may not always mind their manners, but at least they know that there are manners to be minded, in their public if not their private lives.

Elyot Chase (Freddy Douglas) and Amanda Prynne (Caroline Kinsolving), husband and wife for three years and divorced now for three, have both recently remarried and, coincidentally, just happen to be spending their honeymoons in adjoining hotel suites on the French Riviera, though neither yet realizes this in their initial scenes with respective newlywed spouses Sibyl (Jennice Butler) and Victor (Adam J. Smith). Amanda tells Victor that her marriage to Elyot was “like two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle,” and Sibyl reminds Elyot that Amanda lost him “with her violent tempers and goings on.” Clearly these more sensible second marriages are an improvement on their volatile first ones, right?

Or maybe not.

Before long, the formerly mated lovebirds have escaped their recently hitched bride and groom for Amanda’s Paris love nest and are once again lovey-dovey, that is until their persistently rocky relationship has once again turned them into a pair of battling swans, exchanging blows choreographed by fight choreographer Paul Masterson.

Coward himself originated the role of Elyot, so it’s no wonder that the debonair Englishman is the height of sophisticated charm and wit. It’s a role native Londoner Freddy Douglas was born to play, and the A Noise Within star simply couldn’t be more sophisticated, charming, and witty as Coward’s stand-in.

Kinsolving matches Douglas in a role that fits the patrician beauty to a T, and even the sharpest-eared audience member would be hard pressed to guess who’s the authentic Brit of the two. Douglas and Kinsolving have terrific chemistry together, and their comic timing is as sharp as it gets.

Butler and Smith provide crackerjack support as Elyot’s bubbly bride and her stodgy companion in abandonment, and Wendy Cutler gets laughs galore in her cameo as Amanda’s grouchy Parisian maid, a role which she nails in quite credible French.

Director Luke Yankee keeps pace and performances rapid-fire throughout on Kurt Boetcher’s colorful, well-appointed turn-of-the-decade set. Bill Georges once again does impressive double duty in the rarely combined disciplines of lighting and sound design, the former focusing attention and heightening moods, the latter spotlighting Coward tunes and prerecorded piano melodies performed marvelously by Brent Schindele. Kim DeShazo has designed elegant costumes, many of them quite gorgeous, though I wasn’t that crazy about Amanda’s sailor dress or the orangey-red of Sibyl’s Act Two suit, not the best complement to the pinks of Boetcher’s set. Anthony Gagliardi’s hair and wig design matches the show’s timeframe to perfection.

Maya M. Rodgers is stage manager. Michael Donovan, CSA is resident casting director, assisted by Peter Matyas, CSA.

Whether this is your first exposure to Private Lives, or a return visit to the world of Noël Coward, International City Theatre’s summer offering is a sure bet to delight. As Sir Noël himself put it so well, “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar.” Caviar this production most certainly is.

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
–Steven Stanley
August 26, 2011
Photos: Carlos Delgado

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