For those who missed out on spring vacation, Private Lives is a delightful escape. The comedy of manners, written in 1930 by the legendary Noël Coward, is an absurd tale told through the peephole of a bedroom door—think two hours of dirty laundry being hung out to dry while on holiday in France.
This production, at Hillsboro’s Bag & Baggage, keeps things period-appropriate, with stiff dinner jackets for the gents and red lipstick for the ladies. Adam Syron plays fast-talker Elyot Chase, who’s on honeymoon with his new bride. We soon learn that Elyot’s ex-wife, Amanda (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit), is in the neighboring villa—and also on honeymoon. The two new couples are ill-matched: “I should like you to respect me as your wife!” declares Elyot’s freshly betrothed. “I should like to cut off your head with a meat ax,” he dryly replies. These pairings crumble as Elyot and Amanda fall back in love, their crazy romance reignited with the same passion and obstinacy that ended their union the first time.
Kelly-Pettit commands attention as the wild Amanda, who ends most conversations with a profession of love or by throwing a pillow across the room. With highly theatrical elocution, Syron’s performance pays homage to Coward himself, who played Elyot in the play’s original production. All grand flourishes of his dressing gown, limp wrists and perky stride, Elyot’s flamboyance makes the amour fou all the more entertaining. B&B artistic director Scott Palmer has deft command of set details, too, as when Elyot and Amanda childishly bicker in her Paris apartment, shoving a velvet chaise lounge back and forth. This ineffective to-and-fro sums up their entire relationship: They will never truly be over one another, but they’re too volatile to last longer than a honeymoon. They nitpick endlessly, never resolving anything and living off the drama.
Surrounded by exotic
birdcages, dressed in silk robes and consumed by drinking, fighting and
making love, Elyot and Amanda are the picture of upper-class excess and
misadventure. As we become wrapped up in their silly spats, it’s easy to
reflect on our contemporary obsession with celebrity—particularly our
conviction that “they’re just like us!” Cattier than drag queens and far
wittier than the Kardashians, this spectacle is just as addictive and
much more satisfying.
SEE IT: Private Lives is at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E Main St., Hillsboro, 693-3953. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through May 30. $26-$30.