Noel Coward made it all look so easy. He wrote plays with astounding speed ("Private Lives" reportedly took only four days), penned songs by the dozen, and starred in everything he wrote. But producing his exquisitely sophisticated and glamorous plays is far from simple; making the style work requires that every element, from performance to design to pacing, be razor-sharp. And while this production isn't quite perfect, it certainly brings off the tricky balancing act delightfully.
Amanda (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and Elyot (Robert Sella) were divorced five years ago after three stormy years of marriage. They have each remarried, to Victor (Tim Campbell) and Sibyl (Chaon Cross), and are honeymooning in the South of France ó unfortunately in adjoining hotel rooms with shared balconies. They meet again, the old feeling returns, and, unsurprisingly, complications follow.
Coward's genius is in balancing an unending succession of witty lines (tossed off gorgeously by the cast) with real and uncomfortable insights about relationships. Gary Griffin's production walks this tightrope with great aplomb. Arnold is a dream, glamorous and witty as possible while keeping Amanda's human core on display, and while Sella sometimes underlines his jokes, he still brings Elyot to blazing life. Campbell and particularly Cross are just about perfect in their smaller roles.
Griffin keeps the production fleet and delicious, though he makes a few decisions that detract: he's staged the play in the round, which works, but about halfway through the first act the stage starts slowly revolving. It does show the stage from multiple angles, but it's mostly just distracting. And two changes at the end of acts II and III significantly alter the play.
But the production still does an exceptional job at balancing the glittering surface and the profound shadows of Coward's great play, not to mention looking absolutely stunning. It may not be the perfect "Private Lives," but there's still plenty of delight to be had.