Thursday, November 17, 2011

Private Lives

Posted by Mondschein

"Private Lives" at The Music Box, November 15, 2011

This London transfer brings Kim Cattrall back to the Rialto for the first time in 25 years, leading this production of the Noel Coward classic.  Her Amanda was hailed in London and she arrives in New York with a new Elyot in the very handsome Paul Gross.

The crossing seems to have had an impact on the production.  I will confess that there was much to live up to in my eyes, having basked in the glorious revival of 2002 with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. (Unfair?  Perhaps.)

Mr. Gross' Elyot succeeds best among this cast, urbane, elegant and sophisticated.  Lacking is any sense of chemistry between him and Ms. Cattrall's Amanda.  Ms. Cattrall, rather than rising to meet Mr. Gross' level of sophistication, goes instead for the physical laughs with a sense of awkwardness that undercuts the lyrical writing in the first act.  Fortunately, it's in the power of the writing that this approach still works.

The supporting cast also arrives with mixed results.  Anna Madeley is also a new addition and dithers beautifully as Elyot's new wife, Sybil.  She's an excellent physical match to Ms. Cattrall, even drawing entrance applause by an eager audience who didn't realize that it wasn't Ms. Cattrall.  The more curious appearance is the styling and physical appearance of Simon Paisley Day as Victor.  The role is written and usually cast with a more handsome actor who favors the actor playing Elyot.  A brief internet search did reveal a more consistent appearance with the London production's Elyot, Matthew MacFadyen.  Nonetheless, Mr. Day's Victor is much more of a stick-in-the-mud than I had expected.

It's unclear why director Richard Eyre couldn't help these actors find some chemistry.  Each are certainly capable performers, but never manage to deliver any kind of spark.  Even Anna Madeley as Louise, the maid, fails to deliver any laughs, instead merely strolling through the carnage with disinterest.

Rob Howell's costumes effect the period beautifully, but his sets didn't quite hit the mark for me.  Ms. Cattrall's costumes are particularly exquisite, first the bias-cut, champagne silk gown in Act 1, followed by the lovely navy suit in Act 3.  The Deauville balcony felt a bit skimpy where Amanda's Paris apartment stretched credulity in its excessive splendor of art deco chinoise in silver and verdigris.  The aquarium in the apartment is particularly impressive, echoing the circular theme of the room.  It's a gorgeous set, but hardly Amanda's Paris hideaway. David Howe's lighting draws more attention to itself than truly effective lighting should - too many sharply honed edges in selected zones on the stage.

Private Lives is on a limited run through February 5, 2012.  Get tickets here.

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