Review of Private Lives
By Noël Coward
Directed by Ken Rowland
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross Valley Players
RUN: May 19 – June 18, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars
(May 19, 2017)
Daring passion can be magnificent when lovers are in harmony, but what happens when its explosion of power leads to virulent quarrels, self destructing the relationship? Is a calm, cozy affection better in the long run, or a watered down version of true love? For two couples on honeymoon, it becomes a life changing decision. Penned in mere days, when Noël Coward was ill in Shanghai, the play has a quick, flowing pace, driven by emotions of the characters, rather than a decisive plot. The final scene is bittersweet and satisfying—a fitting conclusion to the open question of whether love is worth fighting for.
Ken Rowland’s set design creates a romantic atmosphere, with sheer curtains, rose colored marble balconies and cascading potted plants that shift into a comfortable Art Deco flat for Act II. Augmenting the mood is Stephen Dietz’s sound design of ocean waves and light orchestra. When combined with tactile language from Coward’s script, it is easy to picture lights from the yachts twinkling on moonlit water far below.
The tempestuous stage fight, choreographed by Zoë Swenson-Graham, is riddled with breaking objects, some of which seem quite real, and had the audience on the edge of their seats, gaping at the quarrel while actors ducked and threw books, records, chairs, pillows, and anything else at hand, smashing lamps and vases with gleeful abandon. It must have been quite the scene to stage, and keeps its spontaneous quality, thanks to being well-rehearsed and smoothly executed. Janice Koprowski’s costume designs are opulent, with flowing 1930s gowns and modish pant suits, rather like Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.
Four quite varied characters inhabit Private Lives—the feminine “girl next door” Sibyl, suave world traveler Elyot who has a habit of becoming flippant when faced with an awkward situation, Amanda, a wildcat and consummate liar, yet alluring despite it, and Victor, the stuffy, normal sort of fellow who is taken aback at the proceedings. Together they must navigate the dangerous path of love; whether they succeed or not is up for interpretation.
LeAnne Rumbel’s Amanda struggles with finding her identity—she retains the charged zeal of her youth, but tempered, until passion rips apart her perceived maturity. Rumbel’s melodramatic dancing is a sight to behold, and she tosses out javelin insults with the practiced ease of an Olympian. Gregory Crane as Elyot carries the quality of a Shakespearean actor into the role, bringing out the music and elegant repetition of Coward’s lines. Simon Patton’s Victor is quietly present for most of the play, until blazing into action during the final act. Laura Morgan as Sibyl enters an emotional roller coaster, which the character’s sheltered upbringing has not prepared her for, and keeps a level of naïve surprise when she bursts into tears at being treated in such an unfamiliar manner. Susan Stein as Louise, the French maid, may not have lines in English, but she does not need them to make an impression—the way she flings garlic about, snarling at the state of the room is highly amusing in any language.
Private Lives with Ross Valley Players is an honest portrayal of how love can bring out the best and worst in a couple. When passion runs hot, so does anger and jealousy—is it worth the journey? Noël Coward’s classic play remains relevant, with a sparkling, witty cast and well timed direction from Ken Rowland.