"The show is also a triumph for Hayward's Douglas Morrisson Theatre, where director Susan E. Evans leads her remarkable cast across an elegant art deco set (by Kim A. Tolman) decked in charming period costumes (by Bessie Delucchi)."
"Gorgeous, dazzling and fantastically funny." Clive Barnes, The New York Times
"A gleaming and gleeful comedy." Walter Kerr, The New York Times
"Something to go quite silly over." Walter Winchell, NY premiere in 1931
Quotes from the DMT cast:
"Doesn't everyone always want a second chance?" Gene Mocsy [Elyot]
"Wickedly, relevantly funny … these are two people in love who have no business being in love." Bobbi Fagone [Amanda]
Private Lives was written in 1929, and after a preliminary tour opened at The Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road, London, on September 24, 1930, featuring Noël Coward as Elyot Chase (who also directed), Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda Prynne, Laurence Olivier as Victor Prynne, ands Adrianne Allen as Sybil Chase.
When Private Lives opened at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1930, the British papers described Coward's play as being "tenuous" "thin" "brittle" "gossamer" "an impudent little comedy … an iridescent bubble of a play," "delightfully daring," and "devastatingly funny." Coward himself wrote: "I thought it was a shrewd and witty comedy, well-constructed on the whole, but psychologically unstable; however, its entertainment value seemed obvious enough, and its acting opportunities for Gertie and me admirable …" "As a complete play, it leaves a lot to be desired … taken all in all, it was more tricky and full of pitfalls than anything I have ever attempted as an actor."
"Minimal as an art deco curve, Private Lives' form matched its content: a plotless play for purposeless people." There's no denying the truth in this clever critique by John Lahr, Noël Coward's biographer. But there's also no denying the play's enduring popularity. Private Lives is constantly in production in the West End, on Broadway, in repertory houses, and throughout the world. Just last year Kim Cattrall (of Sex and the City fame) starred as Amanda in a critically acclaimed WestEnd production.
Famously written in only four days by Coward while recovering from the flu in Shanghai, Coward said Private Lives was conceived after Gertrude Lawrence appeared to him late one night in a vision in a stunning white Molyneux gown on a terrace in the South of France (the setting of Act I). The love scene in Act II was considered so risqué — especially considering the fact that the characters were divorced — that England's Lord Chamberlain almost shut the play down before it opened.
Coward's output was prodigious; he authored 60 plays, screenplays, short stories, an autobiography and fiction, and over 300 songs. Musicality infuses the dialogue of Private Lives; you expect them to burst into song at the least provocation. And they did just that in the original production. The pairing of Noël and Gertrude in Private Lives is recalled as a singularly magical moment of theatrical history: of his partner, Noël said "Sometimes, in Private Lives I would look across the stage at Gertie and she would simply take my breath away." Private Lives' theme song, Someday I'll Find You, a hauntingly sweet and romantic duet, is now regarded as one of Coward's most popular "top twelve" tunes.
Amanda and Elyot are elegant, witty and alluring and elitist and completely unabashedly self-absorbed and self-obsessed: they function outside the bounds of propriety, outside the universe wherein dwell the traditional masculine Victor and totally feminine Sibyl. The flippancy that binds them together allows them to escape convention and we envy them their decadent freedom. Flippancy is the very thing that endears the characters to us and what makes the minimalist soufflé of Private Lives age so well. Beneath the witty repartee, the verbal virtuosity is a rather serious story of a couple who love each other, desperately and forever, in a volatile, combustible way.
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