I’ve never been a fan of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. I suppose I have found the play to simply belabor the issue. A little voice in my head starts declaring; “very well then, get on with it will you.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not immune to the charms of a well delivered; “Don’t quibble Sybil,” I just find the premise does not warrant a full length play. However, nothing was going to stand in the way of seeing Paul Gross on stage. Mr. Gross (Slings and Arrows) is a delicate actor who is a master of comedy and quite simply is dreamy. There, I’ve said it.
So it was Mr Paul Gross who got me to the Music Box to see the newest (via London’s West End and Toronto) production of Private Lives. Directed by Richard Eyre, and originating in London, the cast speaks in British accent. I found this far less distracting than did others in the audience. Mr. Gross (Elyot) and Kim Cattrall (Amanda) are clearly not British but the supporting cast; Simon Paisley Day (Victor) and Anna Madeley (Sybil) are. There is a lightness, or perhaps a gaiety to this production which I have never before seen. Ms. Cattrall plays Amanda as a lovely ephemeral good time gal. While Mr. Gross relishes his role as Elyot, giving the character subtle and overt humor. It is very easy to see why they would be besotted with each other. Yet, the actors seem to be anything but. Independently, they are quite wonderful. However, there really is no chemistry between them. Their kisses are awkward and somewhat embarrassing. Yet, even seen as interlacing monologues, their scenes are enjoyable. The production is at its best when all four actors are on stage together.
There are some technical issues with this production that left me scratching my head. This Private Lives has joined the ranks of age-blind casting. Always such a baffling endeavor in a play which announces everyone’s age. I suppose it should not be surprising today when people dress and inject themselves to remain forever young. But people in their fifties playing people who are 30 will always seem strange to me. I am not a fan of changing a playwright’s words to suit a director’s agenda. So I will have to declare this play simply miscast. There were some technical issues with the set as well. This is at least the third staging of this production, yet some of the set (Rob Howell) struck me as a bit community theatre. During intermission, two stage hands came out to the apron with a hand-held drill to dismantle the balcony. In Act II, several props pooped out and the fish tank terrified the actors (I’m guessing something very very bad had happened recently.) The canned music coming out of the piano being “played” by Mr. Gross was just bizarre. Adding to that the curtain delays and missed light cues, I was left wondering what the story was.
Ms. Cattrall does a lovely job with Amanda’s dialogue, delivering her lines on the top of her voice and also looking divine. However she is terribly uncomfortable with the physicality of the role. There is a mental metronome in her head that is very distracting to the audience: “Step two three four. Light cigarette two three four. Place glass on ledge two three four.” The “fight” scene in Act II was painful to witness.
Yet for all of these bumps in the road, of a play I don’t really care for, I am terribly pleased I had the opportunity to see Mr. Gross stake his claim to the Broadway stage.