New York City Theater
Music Box Theater
In the light-headed revival of Noël Coward’s “Private Lives,” a couple so good at hurting each other chucks language when shucking their garments. After all, why let anything approaching civilization’s morals stand in the way of Amanda and Elyot? Says Amanda, “When it comes to them, I’m unreliable.” Coward’s comedy has always been a showcase for star performers wanting to utter bon mots while still in their pajamas.
For this outing it’s the turn of glamorous Kim Cattrall (the hot Samantha of “Sex and the City”) and the equally glamorous Paul Gross (of the wonderful Canadian series, “Slings and Arrows”). Though lacking an undercurrent of passionate bitchery, they go at throats and other regions with abandon.
Cattrall is Amanda, Gross is Elyot, divorced from each other and honeymooning with new spouses in southern France. Meeting by chance, they decide that since they obviously still love one another and their new partners are way too dull, off they go to her flat in Paris. Left behind are pompous Victor and silly Sybil.
Between bouts of love-making, Elyot and Amanda bait each other with hints of past affairs and possible betrayals. (He: “I was madly in love with a woman in South Africa.” She: “Did she have a ring through her nose?”) Only a truce, heralded by the catchwords “Solomon Isaacs,” prevents mayhem.
Cattrall and Gross skip lightly through Coward’s witty and hilarious dialogue. As directed by Richard Eyre, the play’s underlying bitterness is softened, as is its implied criticism of legal marriage. Better to drink brandy and go at one another. “Very few people are completely normal, really, deep down in their private lives” is a key line, just as an unscripted, ambiguous kiss, added for this production, is another slap at said “normality.”
For Coward’s play, though comic, is also subversive. Darkness creeps around the edges, a dichotomy hinted at though not fully formed in this revival.
--David A. Rosenberg
Dec. 1, 2011