Saturday, May 10, 2014

Private Lives: Resurgence of Wit

by Jenni Morin

If done well, Noel Coward’s Private Lives is so much more than a 1930s British comedy of stereotypical verbose stiffs. Classic Theatre’s production of Private Lives, showing now through May 25, is a wonderful tribute to Coward’s work, showcasing the depths of the script and what a good company can do with it.

Private Lives runs through May 25.
When Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne are honeymooning with their new spouses, Sybil and Victor, they least expect to see their exes of five years. After three years of marriage, they couldn’t take the verbal and physical abuse from one another, but as they reunite, Elyot and Amanda can’t help but feel that familiar passion. They run away together, leaving their new spouses behind, only to find fighting to be as inevitable and alluring as their love for one another.

Anna Gangai is truly the star of this production. Not only does she own the character of Amanda Prynne, she brings out the best in her castmates. She is a force with precise comedic timing and contagious unceasing energy, carrying the play with vigor through the final scene. Wade Young truly becomes Elyot Chase when he’s joined onstage by Gangai, which makes sense given Elyot’s unconscious uneasiness with his new wife. Young and Gangai are paired perfectly as they’ve mastered the art of insults and unrelenting passion. Christina Casella takes on the wistful Sybil Chase with grace and soft fluid movements and delightful facial expressions and reactions not to be missed. Like Casella, Guy Schaafs embodies the expected masculine, reserved Victor Prynne. They make another couple a joy to watch bicker and slap each other silly. As Louise the maid, Linda Ford brings comedic relief to tense awkward scenes between the couples.

On the surface, Private Lives is simply a comedy of manners satirizing the lives of wealthy British aristocrats in the early 20th century. But it’s also a tragedy of sorts—where two people so desperately in love bring out the worst in one another, creating a world where they can neither live with or without the other. Part of what makes the script an enduring classic lies in the references to expectations of gender roles, marriage and morality. As the new spouses voice their preferences of what suites a woman or a man, they also dig up marital roles and a rigid morality unbefitting Amanda and Elyot.

Director Tim Hedgepeth does an amazing job bringing out the subtle sadness Coward buried in the script. Amanda and Elyot’s love/hate relationship makes for wild mood swings and few serious moments as the characters bounce from giddiness to hatred, which could be difficult to present if not fully invested in the brazen repartee. Relying entirely on the dialogue for humor can make the characters seem stiff, but Hedgepeth infused the production with movement. Playing with over dramatic gestures to accompany the outrageous quips allowed the characters to rise above any haughtiness that usually bogs down British comedies.

The Classic’s production value seems to be rising as Rick Malone continues to masterfully mix sound and Tim Francis sprinkles subdued colors and textures to set the scene with his lighting. Allan S. Ross designed a spectacle of a set with a grand transition at intermission and exquisite attention to detail and decoration. His ode to art deco with arches, metallics and bold colors brings home the 1930s setting. As usual, Diane Malone’s costumes add to the considerable detailing of the production.

In this day and age of soaring divorce rates, disconnectedness, questionable social etiquette and abbreviated phrases, Coward’s comedy is a celebration of language and a seemingly dying wit associated with intelligent insult. This production shows great respect for setting and detail, subtlety and keenly executed ludicrous banter. Classic Theatre reintroduces Coward’s Private Lives to San Antonio audiences with an impeccably talented cast and much appreciated tenacity.

Private Lives will run at Classic Theatre’s through May 25, 2014 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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