The honeymoon’s over
There is nothing private about the lives of Elyot and Amanda. This divorced couple wouldn’t know how to keep a secret from each other, let alone any unfortunate person who comes within close range of their overbearing personalities. Two ill-fated people find themselves pulled into this feuding couple’s orbit: their respective new spouses, on their respective honeymoons.
The beauty of Noel Coward’s sophisticated comedy of manners Private Lives is that we care at all whether this combustible couple reunites. We root for them to get back together not because it’s best for them, but because it’s best for anyone else who suffers from their self-involved mooning.
Coward makes their contrived comedic meltdowns so delicious to watch, and two Sacramento Theatre Company actors make this match-made-in-hell a hoot. Matt K. Miller and Jamie Jones are equal in their verbal abuses and flailing fists. Coward’s characters usually are cool and collected even when colliding, but Miller and Jones add a physicality that stirs slapstick into the mix.
The plot to Private Lives is pretty simple, and pretty appalling if you stop and think about it. So don’t—just go along for the ride. Two honeymooning couples in adjoining balconies discover they have something in common: their former spouses. When flames re-ignite, the divorced duo flees to Paris, with their other halves trailing after them. But it doesn’t take long for the blush to wear off and the warring to begin again. The three supporting actors—Michele Hillen and Mark Standriff as the spurned spouses, and Brittni Barger as the French maid—give good balance to the sparring partners.
Some of Coward’s references are dated with respect to gender roles and social mores. Others pull you willingly into another era and social stratosphere, where dressing gowns are de rigueur for men and women, cocktails are imbibed with panache, phrases like “shilly shally” are shimmied about, and 1930s tunes are whistled and sung. Sacramento Theatre Company pays homage to this world of sophisticates with handsome period sets, beautiful costumes and scratchy recordings of ’30s hits.