REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Private Lives

By Noel Cowardprivate logo

Directed by Barbara Zahora

Produced by Shaw Chicago

At the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Chicago

Classic comedy of manners nicely performed

Shaw Chicago presents a sophisticated and well acted stage reading of Coward’s 1930 comedy. Private Lives presents Noel Coward’s sharp wit, fluid language, and smart, quirky plot. It amounts to an intelligent, hilarious night at the theatre. You’ll laugh as you acknowledge the utter honesty of Coward’s words. The play demonstrates Coward’s keen observations of human nature.

We meet two rich society couples, each honeymooning on the French Riviera. Elyot Chase (Michael Lasswell) and his new bride, Louise (Leslie Ann Handelman), are enjoying the view from their room, but Louise can’t stop asking Elyot about his former marriage. This irritates the smug Elyot. Coward deliciously sets up the entire play in this scene.

When the couple retires to their room, we meet another couple emerging from their next door balcony. It is Amanda (Mary Michell), Elyot’s ex, with her new husband Victor (Doug MacKechnie), who proceeds to interrogate Amanda about her first husband. Coward’s wit and smart plotting emerge in these scenes.

When Elyot and Amanda meet each other alone on the balcony, sparks begin to fly. The astute pacing and marvelously expressive exchanges masked by the dialogue allow Michael Lasswell and Mary Michell to reminisce in a wonderful and telling scene. The chemistry between the two garnered sparks. This instant rekindling produced a deeper-seated love, propelling the two to desire to runaway together to Paris.

Problem: they are both newly married and on their honeymoon. This clever dark comedy aptly and hilariously presents a madding love affair that allows a couple to flee from society’s rules but not from their own “private lives.”

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. The truth of Coward’s words add depth to the humor. Often the truth bits us deeply.

You’ll be impressed with the fabulous acting by this stellar cast, whose excellent high British accents, proper posture, and manners wonderfully articulate Coward’s stinging dialogue with impeccable comedic timing and appropriate gestures and facial expressions. I especially appreciated the terrific work by Michael Lasswell and Mary Michell.  It is difficult to do this work justice in a stage setting, but this cast does yeoman work here. Private Lives reminds us just how intelligent Noel Coward was as a playwright.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 23, 2015

For more info checkout the Private Lives page at

At the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-587-7390,, tickets $30, $25 seniors, $15 for students, tickets link running time is 2hours, 10 minutes with intermission, thru December 14, 2015