Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Private Lives" Wows the Pittsburgh Public Theatre

Private Lives – by Noel Coward
Pittsburgh Public Theatre – O’Reilly Theatre
Review by RovingPittsburgher Reproter, Tamar Cerafici

There’s a lot of fun in a Noël Coward play, even before the lights dim. My companion for the evening searched the program in vain for a synopsis of the play and was a bit frustrated. I looked through as well, and then explained the plot:
Two couples are on their honeymoon at the same hotel. Wife (Amanda) of one couple was married to husband (Ellyot) of other couple. They bump nto each other on their adjoining balconies. Hilarity ensues.  Roughly, that’s the plot of nearly every Noel Coward comedy.
Victoria Mack as Amanda and 
Michael Brusasco as Elyot
            That’s the short version of this review. PPT’s Private Lives is a delightful study in contrasts, from the silky, sinuous lines of the lead couple, to the frumpy gowns and “scratchy” suits of their new mates. Scenery, costuming, and direction all convince us that these supersized, extravagant characters were made to live life together. Who else would have them?
            The PPT’s ensemble performance captured the elegant, if strained, tone of the English upper class, still reeling from the emotional and economic toll of World War I. The Stodgy Victor (played to the hilt by Laird Mackintosh) and the Sensible Sibyl (Amanda Leigh Cobb’s absolutely serious take on the poor jilted girl is sensational) represent the part of society that responded by returning to Victorian England. Amanda and Ellyot are having none of that, and neither is the playwright.
Michael Brusasco as Elyot and
Victoria Mack as Amanda
            The cast is remarkably good at dispensing Coward’s lightning-quick dialogue. It’s accompanied with passionate fights and raw physical comedy that would look rather silly if not played by really skilled actors. Michael Brusasco, as Ellyot, and Victoria Mack, as Amanda, are fleet of tongue and foot. Every invective is sharp; every caress carries the potential of a left hook. (I must add here that much of the humor of this play stems from the fact that Amanda and Ellyot would have at least 10 restraining orders apiece in this century. Private Lives could be a pretty heavy play if it wanted to be.)
Mr. Mackintosh and Ms. Cobb are perfect foils to the passionate leads. If anything, they keep the play from bobbing away like a beach ball on the waves. They absolutely don’t weight the play down, they just do what their character types are supposed to do: be the sea anchor to keep the boat from going completely off course. And they do it so well that the entire ensemble is perfectly balanced, like a well-made champagne cocktail.
Laird Mackintosh (Victor),
Victoria Mack (Amanda),
Michael Brusasco (Elyot),
 Amanda Leigh Cobb (Sibyl)
I must mention the fifth wheel, Louise the maid. Louise’s role is short, and spoken entirely in French. Elena Alexandratos is simply delightful as the French peasant serving the silly English. I was glad I understood what she said. She brings humor into the third act, which could have devolved into Greek tragedy in lesser hands.
The production continues through June 24, and is the perfect early summer entertainment. Get your tickets. Live it up for a change. The stock market and the presidential campaigns will take care of themselves.

Tamar Cerafici is an environmental lawyer whose national practice includes nuclear power and sustainable development consulting. She is the author of “Dominate: How Lawyers Crush Their Competition (with these 4 Powerhouse Marketing Techniques),” and the founder of as well as LegalShoe, and The Lawyer’s New Clothes, new media channels on that teach lawyers how to build enterprises and find balance in their practices without selling their souls

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