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The wonderfully worldly comedies of British playwright and songwriter Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973) really have staying power, thanks to their devilish dialogue and wickedly funny characters — many of them unapologetically materialistic and shamefully self-absorbed high-society types. Private Lives, the timeless comic masterpiece now royally entertaining Deep Dish Theater Company audiences, boasts a luminous performance by Dorothy Recasner Brown as the attractive but acerbic newlywed Amanda Prynne, just commencing her honeymoon at a posh hotel in Deauville, France.
Then Amanda gets the shock of her life when she runs into her equally attractive but acerbic ex-husband Elyot Chase (Mark Filiaci) and his new child-bride Sybil (Anne-Caitlin Donohue). When that chance meeting re-ignites the smoldering romantic sparks between Mandy and Ely, they succumb to the impulse and “elope” to her deluxe Paris apartment, much to the consternation of Sybil and Amanda’s husband, Victor Prynne (David McClutchey), and Louise (Katja Hill), the impertinent French maid who resents her employer’s unexpected early return from the expensive honeymoon trip that promised to give Louise a welcome respite from Amanda’s ceaseless demands.
Elaborately and elegantly attired by costume designer extraordinaire John C. McIlwee, Dorothy Brown is dressed to thrill, like a beautiful social butterfly, circa 1930, with a seemingly endless supply of colorful and chic dresses, robes, and lounging pajamas crammed in her closets. Brown and, to a lesser degree, Anne-Caitlin Donohue put on quite a fashion show. Mark Filiaci and David McClutchey are also handsomely dressed in swank men’s fashions of the period.
When Brown soars as Amanda, Filiaci as Elyot knows just how to clip her wings, with an endless barrage of sardonic comments and sour observations. Soon Brown and Filiaci are hurling verbal brickbats at each other like champs. Then, when Elyot and Amanda get too exasperated for words and resort to physical violence, the actors are not afraid to roll on the floor like the out-of-control emotional adolescents whom they are impersonating.
Filiaci’s sublimely self-centered Elyot always sits in the seat of the scornful, and the audience rewards his caustic commentary with laughter and applause. Anne-Caitlin Donohue’s Sybil may only be a child bride; but she has learned at the feet of her formidable domineering mother how to steamroll husband and hearth. Sybil aims to rule the roost and will resort to tears and any other feminine wile to get her way with Elyot.
Once Victor gets over his shock at being left behind in the honeymoon hotel while Mandy and Ely run off to Paris, David McClutchey plays Victor like the rampaging gasbag that Elyot accuses him of being. But Katja Hill comes very close to stealing the show with her hysterically funny cameo performance as the ill-tempered, potty-mouthed Louise, always grumbling under her breath as she stomps about the Paris flat, reluctantly serving her mistress and her mistress’ guests.
University Theatre at N.C. State acting coach Fred Gorelick not only gets great performances from each and every cast member and collaborates with his boss at UT, John McIlwee, and assistant to the costume designer Sue Sweezy while they create a dazzling assortment of 1930s glad rags and everyday wear. Gorelick also gets two spectacular sets from scenic designer Paul Stiller and the best efforts of lighting designer Steve Tell and sound designers Deborah Coclanis and Danny Tauber in creating the perfect atmosphere for this vintage romantic comedy to win new fans. This rib-tickling rendition of Private Lives is comedy and Deep Dish Theater Company at its very best.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents Private Lives Friday-Saturday, Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 and 13, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in the space between the Print Shop and Hungates — and across from Waldenbooks — at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $15 ($10 students and $13 seniors 60+), except “Cheap Dish Night,” Nov. 3rd, when all tickets are $6. 919/968-1515 or via .ez-show-ticket at the presenter's site. Note 1: On Oct. 30th, there will be a “Meet the Designers” discussion following the show’s 3 p.m. performance. Note 2: Following the show’s 3 p.m. performance on Nov. 6th, there will be a post-play discussion. Deep Dish Theater Company: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/current.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7269. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022279/. Noël Coward Society: http://www.noelcoward.net/ [inactive 12/06].
Deep Dish Theater Company will stage Private Lives, a classic romantic comedy by celebrated British playwright and songwriter Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973), Oct. 27-Nov. 19 in its storefront theater near the Dillard’s end of University Mall in Chapel Hill, NC. University Theatre at N.C. State acting coach Fred Gorelick will direct the show.
Gorelick says, “I honestly cannot remember when I first heard of Private Lives, as it seems to me to always be etched in my memory as one of the two great comedies of modern Western drama; the other being The Importance of Being Earnest [by Oscar Wilde]. I first directed Private Lives in the summer of 1992 for University Theatre at N.C. State.”
He adds, “Coward’s masterpiece is truly classic in that its themes and dialogue are as fresh today as they must have been in 1930. I am delighted to have the opportunity afforded by Deep Dish Theater to revisit the evergreen rhythms of Coward’s text.”
Noël Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurence Oliver, and Adrianne Allen starred in the world-premiere production of Private Lives in 1929 at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. The show made its Broadway debut, under the direction of Noël Coward, on Jan. 27, 1931 at the Times Square Theatre, with a cast that included Coward as Elyot Chase, Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda Prynne, Laurence Oliver as Victor Prynne, Jill Esmond as Sybil Chase, and Therese Quadri as Louise. Private Lives ran for 256 performances on the Great White Way, and has had six Broadway revivals, most recently in 2002.
The 1931 American motion-picture version of Private Lives, directed by Sidney Franklin, starred Robert Montgomery as Elyot, Norma Shearer as Amanda, Reginald Denny as Victor, Una Merkel as Sybil, and Ferike Boros as Louise.
In reviewing the 2002 Broadway revival for Musicals101.com, John Kenrick wrote, “Every now and then, along comes a production that reminds me why I fell in love with the theater.… [One of those shows] is Noel Coward’s timeless 1930 comedy about Amanda and Elyot, high society divorcees who reunite and abandon their new spouses (Victor and Sybil) on the first night of their honeymoons. Designed as a triumphant vehicle for Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, this insightful look at the war between the sexes has been revived periodically by some of the biggest names in the business. For several years, the unlikely casting of Tallulah Bankhead as Amanda packed houses all across the country. The now legendary teaming of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor in the 1970s was a glamorous fiasco, and many will recall the trashy Joan Collins tour that snuck in and out of town a while back.”
In the current Deep Dish Theater Company presentation, Fred Gorelick says, “Dorothy R. Brown plays Amanda, who is honeymooning with her second husband, Victor (David McClutchey), in exactly the same hotel in Deauville as her former husband Elyot (Mark Filiaci) and his new bride Sybil (Anne-Caitlin Donohue). Into the mix is Amanda’s knowing French maid, Louise (Katja Hill). When chance and fate throws them together once again, the rest of the play unfolds.”
In addition to guest director, Fred Gorelick, the show’s production team includes scenic designer Paul Stiller, lighting designer Steve Tell, costume designer (and Gorelick’s boss at University Theatre) John C. McIlwee (assisted by Sue Sweezy), properties mistress Devra Thomas, sound designers Deborah Coclanis and Danny Tauber, and stage manager Jennifer Bauer.
“The joys and pitfalls of Coward’s intricate text present the major challenges in directing Private Lives,” Gorelick claims. “Coward’s characters speak in a manner that many of us might wish we could speak, but in such a way that, most likely, no one ever could. The cast must learn the unique rhythms of the dialogue, including where to breathe, when to press on and when to hold back.
“In every way imaginable,” Gorelick adds, “Coward’s words are more complex than Shakespearean text. Finding the human truth in all the words, balanced with their musicality, calls for actors and acting of an extremely high caliber. We are fortunate to have such a group of gifted performers.”
Gorelick says, “There are two settings in Private Lives: side-by-side terraces of a fashionable, older hotel in [Deauville,] France in 1930; and the living room of [Amanda’s] Paris flat, smartly appointed.”
He adds, “[Lighting designer Steve Tell] has created magic within the confines of the cozy Deep Dish space. We are bathed in August moonlight in Act One and warmed by evening and then morning glow in Acts Two and Three. (Don’t be put off by two intermissions within three acts, the production runs a breezy one hour and 50 minutes.)”
As for the show’s 1930s costumes, Gorelick says, “John McIlwee has shared his customary breathtaking period costume-magic with us.”
Fred Gorelick adds, “In contemporary theater, it is more and more rare to be treated to an evening of high romance, glamour, wit, and insight into the comic/dramatic ramifications of love. Private Lives affords such an evening — and nothing gets blown up! Coward assumes the intelligence of his audience, making the choice of this great play a perfect fit for Deep Dish Theater audiences.”
Deep Dish Theater Company presents Private Lives Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 and 13, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in the space between the Print Shop and Hungates — and across from Waldenbooks — at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $15 ($10 students and $13 seniors 60+), except “Cheap Dish Night,” Nov. 3rd, when all tickets are $6. 919/968-1515 or via .ez-show-ticket at the presenter's site. Note 1: On Oct. 30th, there will be a “Meet the Designers” discussion following the show’s 3 p.m. performance. Note 2: Following the show’s 3 p.m. performance on Nov. 6th, there will be a post-play discussion. Deep Dish Theater Company: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/current.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7269. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022279/. Noël Coward Society: http://www.noelcoward.net/ [inactive 12/06].