PRIVATE LIVES in the Spotlight

by Paul Recupero

Lives are anything but private in this 1930’s British comedy by Noël Coward, now running at Stagecrafters in Chestnut Hill. Elyot (Jeff Ragan) and Amanda (Pierlisa Chiodo-Steo), once a couple, are five years divorced. They since have moved on and remarried: Elyot to the slightly high-strung Sibyl (Mare Mikalic) and Amanda to the somewhat boorish Victor (Mark Grayson). Despite some persistent questioning by Sibyl and Victor of their respective lovers’ former spouses, both newlywed pairs appear to be enjoying relaxing honeymoons. That is until Elyot and Amanda realize they unintentionally have vacationed in the same hotel. Worse yet, their rooms are adjacent and share a common terrace. While at first Elyot and Amanda are disheartened upon learning of each other’s presence, the old flame inevitably rekindles, and they ultimately decide to ditch their new spouses and make a secret romantic getaway to Amanda’s flat in Paris.

Mare Mikalic, Jeff Ragan, Mark Grayson, Pierlisa Chiodo-Steo in a scene from The Stagecrafters' PRIVATE LIVES, running in Chestnut Hill, PA through February 20.

It’s this dubious coincidence that begins PRIVATE LIVES, and it’s also what makes the plot so engaging from the start. Yes it’s absurd, but we audience members always eat up conflict, and this show provides plenty of that…perhaps too much. Elyot and Amanda jump back and forth between love and hate more times than I could count. Most of it is enjoyable, but it also has the consequence of slowing down the pace of the show, particularly during the Act II. However, this is inherent in the script itself, and Stagecrafters’ production does everything it can to keep the show driving forward. I won’t spoil the ending, but it leaves a lot open for discussion— always a plus in my book.

Director Rhonda Goldstein has cast a fantastic group of actors. Ragan and Chiodo-Steo are well-paired as the “former” lovers who cannot stand to be together nor stand to be apart. The combination of Elyot’s bluntness with Amanda’s extravagance paves the way for many hilarious moments, including an extended and elaborately choreographed” fight” scene. Indeed, the blocking for most of the play is varied and interesting—the exception being the first scene where there were a few crosses that appeared unnatural. However, in the production’s defense, there’s only so much a director can do with actors on a confined terrace.

Mikalic and Grayson as the lovers’ new spouses are no less engaging. Their characters’ humorous idiosyncrasies contribute appropriately to the “every person for him or herself” confrontation during Act III. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the subtle humor provided by Amanda’s maid (Sonya Aiko Hearn), who speaks only French. The other characters lean toward melodrama, but this is intentional and works in tandem with the delectably peculiar plot structure. In a play that requires precise comic timing, a thoroughly rehearsed production such as this is a breath of fresh air.

While the terrace set is pleasant, the Paris flat is beautiful in its ornate detail and is well designed for the actors to make full use of the space. (Included is a working grand piano that at one point allows Ragan to show off his marvelous musical talent.) The lighting for the most of the stage was solid, but the edges of the set were shrouded in half-darkness, which became obvious only when the actors stepped there. The background music and sound effects were always on cue and added to the fine ambiance of the other production elements.

Stagecrafters has a great show here. Although I found the repeated back-and-forth tugs of Elyot and Amanda’s tumultuous romance a bit wearing, I’m sure many would argue—including Coward himself—that that is precisely what love is all about.

by Noel Coward
Directed by Rhonda Goldstein
February 4 -20, 2011
The Stagecrafters
8130 Germantown Ave
Chestnut Hill, PA
(215) 247-8881   

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