Noël Coward’s Private Lives

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Written by Noël Coward | Directed by Julianne Boyd |  August 7th – 24th, Barrington Stage Company, Main Stage.

Sibyl – Rebecca Brooksher
Louise – Tandy Cronyn
Victor – Mark H. Dold
Amanda – Gretchen Egolf
Elyot – Christopher Innvar

Rebecca Brooksher, Mark H. Dold, Christopher Innvar, and Gretchen Egolf in Noël Coward's Private Lives, photo Kevin Sprague
Rebecca Brooksher, Mark H. Dold, Christopher Innvar, and Gretchen Egolf in Noël Coward's Private Lives, photo Kevin Sprague

Noël Coward’s famous comedy, Private Lives (1930), is now playing at the Barrington Stage Company (BSC) in Pittsfield and is an absolute treat. The play is a masterpiece – an assertion the BSC’s production affirms.

The first Act is set on the terrace of a hotel in France. It is divided into two separate honeymoon suites. Elyot Chase (Christopher Innvar) and his new bride Sibyl (Rebecca Brooksher) occupy the suite stage right, while Amanda Prynne (Gretchen Egolf) and her new bridegroom Victor (Mark H. Dold) occupy the one opposite. Both Elyot and Amanda are second time offenders in the world of marriage. And what is more, they were married to each other the first time. Of course, this is a frightfully embarrassing coincidence for our characters. For, what with seeing each other in the French moonlight and the orchestra downstairs playing a sentimental and romantic tune, they again fall in love.

Private Lives is often praised Coward’s best work. Certainly, it has been the most successful. The first performance had Gertrude Lawrence (Amanda), Laurence Olivier (Victor), Adrianne Allen (Sibyl) and Noël Coward himself as Elyot. A recording of Coward and Lawrence can be heard at YouTube by clicking here.

The cast in this production, although not on par with Lawrence, Olivier and Coward, are excellent still. Egolf, as Coward demands, “is quite exquisite with a gay face and a perfect figure.” She stands out from the other characters with her red hair, negligee (the others are all sporting travelling clothes) and singular beauty. Innvar, back for the fifth time with the BSC, is a great Elyot, emphasising well all the wit and charm of his character. Nor were the supporting actors a dissapointment. Brooksher is “very pretty and blonde,” and despite being a proud New Orleans native, her accent is affected very well. Dold is an amusing Victor, adding some unique and effective mannerisms to the part.

Private Lives

The production is directed by Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director and founder of the BSC. She is a fine director, as Private Lives will testify. The movement and timing of the whole production is done to perfection, complementing well the wonderful written humour of the play. Coward’s tremendous understanding of humanity and marriage are not ignored by Boyd. The trivial querreling, although lacking none of the desired satire, conveys the ironies, contradictions, problems and joys of romance. “We were so over in love,” says Elyot, explaining their divorce.

The two sets were spacious and suited to the emphatic, sometimes acrobatic, movement and use of our cast. Other technical effects – lighting, sound, costumes – all were suitable. The costumes took our ladies back in time to the happy flapper days and when no gentleman’s wardrobe was complete without a smoking jacket. The fight choreography was silly, overdone and quite necessarily so.

Private Lives is an excellent play, amusing and enlightened, and the BSC has shown these traits. It is among this Berkshire playgoer’s favourite productions of the season.

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