By Noel Coward
Directed by Terry McCabe
At City Lit Theatre
Funny performances break new life into Coward classic
Private Lives and Old Times will be performed in repertory at City Lit Theatre (Old Times opens March 31).Terry McCabe directs both in his ode to two major British playwrights—Noel Coward and Harold Pinter.
Private Lives is a fine production combining outstanding work from the five actors with Noel Coward’s sophisticated wit, fluid language and smart, quirky plot. It amounts to an intelligent, hilarious night at the theatre. You’ll laugh as you acknowledge the complete honesty of Coward’s words. The play demonstrates Coward’s keen observations of human nature.
We meet two rich English society couples each honeymooning on the French Riviera. Elyot Chase (Don Bender in a most cavalier performance) and his new bride Louise (a high-pitch Maggie Kettering) 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. Bender is a treasure to behold here as we witness his comic chops.
When the couple retires to their room, we meet another couple emerging from their next door balcony. It is Amanda (Cameron Feagin in a devilishly smart performance), Elyot’s ex with her new husband Victor (George Seegebrecht as a stiff, vain English gentleman) who proceeds to interrogate Amanda about her first husband. Coward’s wit and smart plotting unfolds.
When Elyot and Amanda meet each other alone on the balcony, sparks instantly begin to fly. Bender and Feagin exchange funny gestures with a smoldering sexual attraction ready to explode. The chemistry between the two was genuine. 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.’ The work was scandalous when first produced.
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. Terry McCabe plays every situation rightly to its comedic fullest.
George Seegebrecht and Don Bender exchange comic bits with a sharpness that wins us. Cameron Feagin is fabulous and equally cunning as she stays with Bender’s every whimsy. This is a most hilarious mounting of Private Lives where the actors seem to be having a good time delivering Coward’s delicious play.
At City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-293-3682, tickets are $25. Running time for Private Lives is 2 hours, 10 minutes with 2 intermissions. In revolving repertory with Old Times, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 or 8 pm, Sundays at 4 or 7 pm.