When audience members first entered the Paul Green Theater at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill for PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Private Lives, they were at once immersed in the café society of the1930s. White lights shimmered on the golden proscenium of Michael Raiford’s stunning and larger than life scenic design as pianist Mark Lewis provided ambient music from his center stage baby grand. For those spectators who chose to upgrade their experience, waiters in tails made their way across the hardwood floors with hors d’oeuvres and mocktails to the stage-side café tables for these patrons. As the house lights went down, the wait staff evolved into the singing and dancing ensemble that assists in seamless set changes and serenading the audience from one act into the next of this Noel Coward classic comedy.
Act I opens on two couples: Sibyl Chase, played by the youthful and exuberant Kristen Mengelkoch, is on the first night of her honeymoon with Elyot Chase, played by the glib and debonair Jeffrey Blair Cornell, when Elyot’s ex-wife, Amanda, the sleek and lively Julie Fishell, arrives at the same hotel with her new husband Victor, the grounded Tom Coiner, hilarity ensues.
Michael Raiford’s extravagant design and lush stage dressings transported the audience into warm nights on the Riviera and then to a plush flat in Paris. It is there in Act II that the luxurious Parisian retreat is dismantled with flying flowers, shorn open pillows, and overturned furniture as the couples sort out their affairs. Director Sean Daniels utilized every part of the stage and every piece of furniture, moving his actors to stand on tables, flip over couches, and chase one another around the set as they cycled through both love and war. Movement coach Craig Turner sharply synchronized the actors in moments of calm just before the storm of rage or of passion that was sure to send them into a frenzy once more. The natural chemistry between Cornell and Fishell gave Elyot and Amanda a quirky romance and volatile divorce. Juxtaposed with the naivety of Sibyl and the level-headedness of Victor, this production was full of dynamic relationships that made for one entertaining evening of theatre.
In the hands of this capable cast and crew, Private Lives was witty, glamorous, and unique. Audience members will recognize the elements of love and hate that make Coward’s award-winning script as timeless as ever.
Private Lives continues through Sunday, February 9. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.