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Coward's 'Private Lives' quite public - 5 out of 5 Stars

By Joanne Greco Rochman, Waterbury Republican-American


Considering that Noel Coward's comedy "Private Lives" has had seven Broadway revivals and played at just about every community and regional theater in Connecticut, there's not much private about the play.

Currently, it is alive and very well at TheatreWorks in New Milford. Writer Tom Faulkner, in an article for "Drama for Students," said Coward "repeatedly insisted that 'Private Lives' is a light comedy, intended to amuse and captivate its audience, rather than to teach moral lessons or advance a particular ideology. It is exactly the sort of popular work scholars may 'murder to dissect: to overanalyze its 'deeper meanings' is to risk blinding ourselves to its glittering surfaces or sacrificing the light-hearted pleasures its author has carefully provided."

However, considering the play was written in 1929 and first performed in 1930 and that it is still going strong, there is something worth exploring here. A little piece of fluff could not have survived so long and so well.

Director Frank Arcaro noted in the TheatreWorks' playbill the play is "a perfectly structured trifle" and that there is a "timeless struggle around social change."

The latter is certainly true, since the play focuses on two couples on the first night of their honeymoons. That's when Elyot, who has just argued with his new bride, bumps into his ex-wife Amanda, who has just argued with her new husband Victor. As Coward would have it, the two couples unknowingly booked two adjacent rooms and the divorcees meet on adjacent terraces.

When Elyot and Amanda rediscover each other, they realize they are still madly in love with each other and abandon their new spouses. They just take off for Paris without so much as a parting word.

Coward might have thought this a piece of classy glitz, but the play definitely mocks traditional marriage, and conventional social behavior as well as gender and sexual norms.

What's more, Amanda is stunned when Victor declares that he is normal. She is appalled by that statement and insists that she is "unpredictable."

Arcaro's direction is spot on and the action is literally non-stop in this play. Anna Fagan, as the ever weeping Sybil, sulks and broods with panache. Jonathan Jacobson is a natural as Elyot. Jacobson is not just a class act, but a first-class act. So too Vicki Sosbe, as Amanda, who delivers an absolutely commanding performance. J. Scott Williams takes on the role of Victor with the perfect balance of romance and reality. Christina Van De Water's brief performance as Louise the French maid punctuated the French language à la perfection.

Glenn Couture's scenic painting is quite chic and the sound and lighting designers intensified the look as well as the action. Overall, this is a truly fine production of a truly dazzling play.

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