The title of the late English playwright Noel Coward's romantic farce, "Private Lives," may seem something of a misnomer, as Coward has crafted his characters' dialogue to tell the audience, as well as each other, from the moment the curtain rises, everything about their respective relationships. The opening scene serves as exposition as the once married Elyot (Bruce Nelson) and Amanda (Deborah Hazelett) dish dirt on each other for the benefit of their new spouses, Sybill (Erin Lindsey Krom) and Victor (Peter Wray).
We learn that Amanda was likely unfaithful, can't play the piano and once cracked four gramophone records over Elyot's head. Elyot, we discover, enjoyed his brandy too much, may have had an affair of his own, and was given to trading punches, both wit and fist, with Amanda.
What makes these disclosures all the more amusing is the fact that they take place on the balcony of the same hotel where, as comic coincidence would have it, both couples find themselves honeymooning.
When Elyot and Amanda discover each other, they find the spark that once flamed their romance is still burning and before you can say "Solomon Isaacs!" (their agreed upon code phrase to head off gramophone-record-busting "rows"), they ditch their new spouses and whisk off to Paris.
Despite allusions made to days spent making love, the once married couple is soon making war which not even Solomon Isaacs (or the replacement term, "Socks!") can prevent. Sybill and Victor soon arrive on their doorstep, doors slam, tears and accusations fly, and in the middle of it all, the maid Louise (Sophie Hinderberger) is late with the coffee, but right on time with her biting commentary, even if it is all in French.
As anyone familiar with Noel Coward knows, the star of any Coward play is invariably the script which teems with charm and wit that would give Oscar Wilde a run for his money. As the hotel band plays what must have been Amanda and Elyot's song, Amanda quips, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." When Elyot declares, "It doesn't suit a woman to be promiscuous," Amanda retorts, "It doesn't suit men for women to be promiscuous."
But of course, a great symphony is just dots on a page unless played by a talented orchestra. In this case, the "musicians" are more than adequate as Nelson and Hazlett, both long-time Everyman company members and veterans of the stage, handle their roles like gifted virtuosos.
Bruce Nelson, known for his comic turns in such works as The Mystery of Irma Vep and Shipwrecked!, is snappy-and-savior-faire, perfectly suited to a 1920s era comedy. Hazlett is a perfect foil for Nelson, proving she can give as good as she gets; neither overshadows the other which is perfect as the characters are to be perfect equals.
Wray and Krom are similarly well-suited in their supporting roles as ditched-after-the-altar spouses. Wray as Victor plays his role in the stiff-and-old-school-Englishman style, but without ever venturing into stereotype. Krom's platinum-curled Sibyl is no ditsy blonde either, but proves a formidable adversary for Amanda despite her youth. And though Hinderberger has not a single word of English to speak, certainly makes her meaning clear with her tone, inflection, and body language, resulting in many laughs from the audience.
Private Lives did encounter a hiccup or two; nickel-plated lighters may look charming, but not when they won't light. There was an unintended comic moment when Nelson had the flame ready but Hazlett had yet to secure her cigarette. A slammed door sent a painting sliding off a wall and a closing curtain knocked over a chair, but even these glitches seemed to fit the mischievous spirit of the piece.
Prior to curtain, Everyman founding artistic director Vincent Lancisi addressed the audience, noting, "If you don't have the sets and costumes, you don't have Noel Coward." Fortunately, the Everyman has artistic team Kristen J. Bishel (stage manager), David Burdick (costume design), Daniel Ettinger (scenic design), Cory Ryan Frank (lighting) and Elisheba Ittoop (sound) who created a wonderful look back in time to an age of seersucker suits, flamboyantly large ladies hats, silk gowns, art deco designs and music at the cusp of the Jazz Age.
Private Lives continues its run, now extended to Dec. 11th, at the Everyman Theatre at 1727 N. Charles Street. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday. For tickets, call 410-752-2208 or go online at www.everymantheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Stan Barough