Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Private Lives

By Noel Coward

Private Lives at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Directed by Gary Griffin

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Fabulous cast nails Coward’s classic romantic comedy of manners

Private Lives, the 1930 so-called escapist “well-made” play,  was deemed light entertainment then but it sure is world class fare in the hands of Gary Griffin and the designers at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Neil Patel’s slow rotating in-the-round set and Paul Tazewell’s dazzlingly eloquent costumes compliment the expert skills of the five member cast. Griffin’s witty, smart and stirringly humorous comedy of manners is an elegant verbal treat. Coward would appreciate this production.

Private Lives Robert Sella & Tracy Michelle Arnold chicago

“Elyot and Amanda call it quits after three tumultuous years of marriage. Five years later, they are trapped on adjoining terraces, honeymooning in the same French hotel—with their new partners in hand. Commiseration turns into reminiscence. Bathed in moonlight and distant music, their passion reignites and, heedless of the consequences, they decide that they belong together—though destined to relive what drove them apart the first time.”– Contributed by the CST Education Department

Private Lives at chicago shakespeare theater chicago

Beyond that explanation, Private Lives is really about Coward’s views on what constitutes a normal marriage–that two people can have such a passionate love-hate relationship of equal partnership that it sustains and fuels the marriage. Violence, verbal battles of wits and obnoxious behavior are all part of the pent up passion that explodes far beyond the restrictions of  ‘normal.’

Robert Sella & Tracy Michelle Arnold in Private Lives by Coward

Coward makes two most sophisticated characters, Elyot (the suave Robert Sella) and his ex Amanda (the intense yet vulnerable Tracy Michelle Arnold) play out their ritual of banter that leads to arguments that leads to physical violence that leads to passionate sex.  Coward has these two move from restrained manners to primitive emotions through humorous situations.

In the hands of a master wit, Private Lives unfolds as one of the cleverest plays written as it presents the foibles of human desire, sexual wants and society’s rules as they conflict. Tim Campbell plays Victor with both stuffy convention and underlying desires while Chaon Cross marvelously plays Sybil as a traditional woman. Both eventually learn the lesson from Amanda and Elyot to left their passion demons out and live their ‘private lives’ in the real world.

Private Lives is a terrific romantic comedy that demands and this production has tour de force performances from the entire cast. The sharp chemistry and stinging repertoire from Sella and Arnold anchors this amazingly funny and engaging production. This is world class theatre!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

Private Lives will continue through March 7, 2010 at CST at Navy Pier.  Performances are Tuesday (February only) at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday January 20, 27, February 3, 10 and 17 and March 3 at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (February 24 no evening performance), Thursday (January 21, 28, all of February and March 4) at 7:30 p.m., Friday January 22 and 29,all of February (except the 5th) and March 5 at 7:30 p.m., February 5 at 6:30 p.m., Saturday January 23 and 30, February all and March 6 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.,Sunday January 24 and 31, all February and March 7 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets range from $55-$75 and are available at the box office, by phone at 312-595-5600 or online at

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