Recently revived on the Broadway stage this past winter, Noël Coward's comic tour de force PRIVATE LIVES now comes to Pittsburgh to finish off Pittsburgh Public Theater's "Red Hot" 2011-2012 season. Coward's silly screwball romp from the 1930s tells the story of two former lovers, Elyot and Amanda, reunited five years after a presumably malicious divorce. The glamorously volatile couple rekindles their lust for one another after being forced together by adjoining hotel balconies on their respective second honeymoons – and the madness that ensues is a hilarious clash of verbal and physical proportions between both members of the highly acidic pair.
This production of PRIVATE LIVES merits generous applause for its decision to cast four relatively young actors in the play's starring roles, despite the fact that Coward wrote the play with himself and Gertrude Lawrence in mind for the roles of Amanda and Elyot. Of the casting, director Ted Pappas says: "The entire play was written for young actors. Over the years it's been this odd tradition of having middle-aged performers play the play, people in their 50s and 60s, great actors – Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – but I've decided to go back to its original conception and cast four sensational, young stars."
The youthful elegance that Michael Brusasco, Amanda Leigh Cobb, Victoria Mack, and Laird Mackintosh bring to their respective roles does, indeed, manage to provide a refreshing take on a seemingly timeless play. Of these four bright performers, Michael Brusasco is the evening's definitive standout as Elyot, with a highly alluring Victoria Mack (fresh off a gig as Nina Arianda's understudy in the Tony-nominated Broadway sensation VENUS IN FUR) close behind, especially in her seemingly effortless ability to summon the sophistication of a bygone era. Elena Alexandratos also deserves a mention for her decidedly underused comic chops as a disgruntled French maid in the show's final act.
James Noone's scenic design is of particular note, especially in a play in which the set is so integral to the action that it almost seems to be a character all its own. His chic two-fold conception of a hotel terrace and Amanda's glamorous Parisian apartment shine as the backdrop for an evening full of balcony hopping, door slamming, and pillow flinging, among myriad other amusing antics.
Perhaps the most glaring concern within this PRIVATE LIVES, however, is the at-times fickle quality of the four main characters' British accents. Though for the most part consistent, there do exist several fleeting – yet distracting – moments at which Elyot, Amanda, and the gang almost sound as if they hail from Scotland or some other unidentifiable European country rather than England.
Accents notwithstanding, there is a particularly captivating moment in the play's second act when Elyot and Amanda silently dance around one another as they wait for their cue to speak, having been momentarily silenced by their magic "codeword" as an attempted remedy to their venomous hostility toward one another. It is within these entrancing, personal moments that the audience gleans a true glimpse into Coward's overarching notion that "very few people are completely normal, really, down in their private lives."
PRIVATE LIVES runs through June 24 at the O'Reilly Theater, Pittsburgh Public Theater's home in the heart of Downtown's Cultural District. For tickets call 412.316.1600 or visit ppt.org. The Presenting Sponsors of PRIVATE LIVES are Randi and L. Van V. Dauler, Jr.
Victoria Mack and Michael Brusasco
Michael Brusasco and Victoria Mack
Laird Mackintosh, Victoria Mack, Michael Brusasco, and Amanda Leigh Cobb
All Photo Credits: Pittsburgh Public Theater