ShawChicago continues their 2015-2016 season of readings with Private Lives, a play by Noel Coward about a divorced couple who, on honeymoon with their respective new spouses, reunite and fall in love again. While the play never goes very deep, the dialogue-heavy play is perfect for a reading, and the actors shine.
While Amanda (Mary Michell) and Elyot (Michael Lasswell) are on their second honeymoons, their new spouses (Leslie Ann Handelman as Sibyl and Doug MacKechnie as Victor) can’t hide their insecurity in their new marriages, as they continually ask about their predecessors. And for good reason, it appears, since Amanda and Elyot run off together as soon as they reconnect. Unfortunately for them, while it becomes clear why they were together, it becomes equally clear why they broke up.
Amanda and Elyot obviously have a dysfunctional relationship, full of bickering and threats of violence. Still, they have chemistry, flickering back and forth between near-violence to fond reminiscences of their married days. And while their relationship is unhealthy, when they laugh together, it’s easy to see why they would stay together. This second time around, they do try to learn from their previous mistakes, setting up a code phrase to silence themselves when arguments get heated, in an attempt to fight less.
Sibyl is very pretty but also very young, only 23, and her crying makes her sound like a spoiled child. Although she and Victor team up to follow their respective spouses after they elope together, Victor become impatient with Sibyl, and they begin to mirror the more combative aspects of Amanda and Elyot’s relationship.
The show itself is a lot of fun and very light-hearted despite the arguments, which means that it glosses over most of the issues. It makes light of the cheating, as Coward does in other plays (Design for Living, for example), and dismisses the physical violence as a quirk of their relationship. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Private Lives, and the mischievous quality to Amanda and Elyot’s interactions when they’re not fighting makes me wish they could find a way to move past their quick tempers and forge a more stable relationship.
ShawChicago Theater Company at Ruth Page Center for the Arts – 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL
November 21 – December 14, 2015
Tickets: $30.00 General, $25.00 Senior Citizen, $15.00 Students.
By Noel Coward, Directed by Barbara Zahora
Robert Scogin (Artistic Director), Tony Courier (Managing Director), Lisa Gordon (Stage Manager), George Zahora (Sound Design), Betty Johnson (House Manager), Natalie Keller (Box Office Manager)