Private Lives Review – Noel Coward’s Ever-Popular Comedy of Manners

Courtney Shaffer and Matt Landig in PRIVATE LIVES - Photo by Gloria Plunkett
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A delightfully hilarious play written in Shanghai in only four days, Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES debuted in Edinburgh in 1930, soon followed by London and Broadways performances starring author Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, and Laurence Olivier. One of Coward’s most popular plays, PRIVATE LIVES was later revived and adapted for radio and television for years. Since the Tony, Drama Desk, and Olivier awards had not yet seen the light of day when the play originally opened, it was not until 1969 and thereafter that various revivals handily earned these awards. A film in 1931 starred Normal Shearer and Robert Montgomery, and a radio play adapted by Orson Welles (who also played the lead) co-starred Gertrude Lawrence. Over the years, lead roles have been assayed by thespian notables such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Tallulah Bankhead, Alan Rickman, and Maggie Smith – to name only a few. For the trivia collector: Noel Coward wrote a song in the play which also became immensely popular – “Some Day I’ll Find You.” In 2024, the Kentwood Players proudly present Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES for modern audiences.

Courtney Shaffer, Matt Landig, Allen Barstow, and Alyssa Berkowitz – Photo by Gloria Plunkett

The time is 1930, and the place is an elegant hotel in the South of France, where honeymooners Elyot (Matt Landig) and his new bride Sibyl (Alyssa Berkowitz) have come to seal the bargain. They never anticipate that in the suite next door a second honeymooning couple – Amanda (Courtney Shaffer) and Victor (Allen Barstow) – will turn their nuptials upside down. It seems that Elyot and Amanda were married for three tempestuous years marked by perpetual arguments and thrown crockery before their divorce five years ago. Both have decided to try marriage again – but certainly don’t expect to spend their honeymoons within feet of each other. Clearly, this is going to be a honeymoon to end all honeymoons and a perfect example of the vagaries of love: They can’t live with each other – but they can’t live without each other either.

Matt Landig and Allen Barstow – Photo by Gloria Plunkett

Richard Perloff does an excellent job of helming the classic Noel Coward piece. Kudos to Landig and Shaffer, who do their author proud as the perfect example of a love/hate, on again-off again pair of lovers – with a superb British accent to boot. The story is given a boost by Ben Lupejkis’ excellent set design which absolutely screams the 1930s. Daniel Kruger’s costumes are quite perfect, and Michael Thorpe’s lighting and sound add dimensions to the tale.

Courtney Shaffer, Matt Landig, and Alyssa Berkowitz – Photo by Gloria Plunkett

PRIVATE LIVES is a must-see, both for lovers of Noel Coward’s bubbly creations and for inveterate theater history buffs. It is amusing, witty, sardonic, clever, and one of Coward’s best plays. It is also a play that almost didn’t make it to the stage due to those risqué scenes in the middle (this is the ‘30’s, remember). The current Kentwood production shines.

Courtney Shaffer and Matt Landig – Photo by Gloria Plunkett

PRIVATE LIVES runs through February 10, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Westchester Playhouse is located at 8301 Hindry Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Tickets are $25 ($4 discount for seniors and students available online or emailing box office; group rates for 10 or more $19; rush tickets on January 27 at l:30 p.m. for the 2 p.m. performance only). For information and reservations, call 310-645-5156 or go bo*******@ke*************.org">online.

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