Time yaps at the heels of comedy. Tragedy marches inexorably on. In comedy the present turns immediately to the past, this is why the pace must be fast. Private Lives tries to talk about serious things rapidly. It does not stop and consider. The past is a repetition of the future, not the other way around. This is why the characters circle endlessly. You might call it the rhythm of life, or in a darker comedy, the dance of death. There is plenty of life left in Private Lives. Its relentless wit continues to charm. The couple who fight best seem to love best. Only fine actors can repeat themselves. Shakespeare and Company’s production of Noel Coward’s play had the requisite energy. David Joseph, in particular, seemed inexhaustible, time yapping at his heels. Dana Harrison also commanded the speed and flavor of imperious time, sometimes by trying to slow it ever so slightly.
After my all-too-common last minute arrival, I had no opportunity to read Tony Simotes’ wise note in the program until the intermission. When I did, I struck a chord with thoughts that had been coming to me about Noël Coward since feeling his very large presence in Sir Donald and Marc Sinden’s wonderful series of documentaries about the theaters of London’s West End: his plays, as ephemeral as they claim to be, keep coming back, and have turned into classics under our noses, so to speak. Beneath the electric language and constantly amusing repartee, which in themselves have proven surprisingly durable, the basic themes that concern us all—attraction, love, loyalty, fidelity, convention and life, youth and maturity, and (although not in Private Lives) aging. Truth is, Coward, with his insistence that his gifts consisted of no more than “a talent to amuse,” was his own worst detractor.