Private Lives is light fare done well. This Synergy Stage-Delta King Theatre production of Noel Coward’s comedy of manners is a nice alternative to the heavier dramas out there right now. This is no highbrow morality play. Rather, it’s a high-society immorality play infused with Coward’s droll wit and wicked sense of impropriety.Though Private Lives is set in the 1920s, and was written and performed by Coward in 1930s, the play’s remained a theatrical mainstay for decades. Its current rebirth is the Broadway production starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, who portray the incredibly selfish and deliciously moral-lacking, once-married couple Elyot and Amanda. For the Synergy Stage production, real-life marrieds Luther Hanson and Christine Nicholson portray the eccentric ex-spouses.
The exes run into each other during honeymoons with their new spouses, and quicker than you can say “shilly shally,” one of the play’s many great slang terms, the two hedonists dump their respective newlyweds and rekindle old passions. How the audience comes to root for this self-centered, smug twosome can be chalked up to Coward’s writing genius and Hanson and Nicholson’s winning acting talents.
Coward’s wonderfully witty dialogue is written and delivered in the haughty, understated manner of the English upper crust, which makes Amanda’s remarks upon running into her first husband on her second honeymoon so funny. “I can’t help feeling this is a little unfortunate,” Amanda drawls to Elyot. He responds by languidly describing their marriage as “eight glorious years, three married and five divorced.”
But in the second half, after the first dew of rediscovery has dissipated, we find the couple’s passion for witty repartee and lovemaking surpassed only by their equally passionate verbal battles. Hanson and Nicholson are a joy to watch as they expertly exchange vicious barbs and repartee—and their real-life partnership pays off. This isn’t the first time the spouses have played a fiery onstage couple. The two battled their way through Synergy Stage’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as the thoroughly miserable George and Martha, but this time around the couple’s outcome is a bit more uplifting.
Part of the play’s success relies on the audience’s eventual realization that the two unfortunate honeymoon outcasts, “poor dull Victor” (Alan Tollefson) and silly Sibyl (Hanna Rahilly), are merely horribly mismatched newlyweds. Tollefson manages to make Victor a likable boor who should flee as fast as he can. However, Rahilly is less successful with her shrill portrayal of Sibyl, emitting irritating ear-shattering shrieks at every turn.