The romantic comedy “Private Lives” opens on April 6 at Star City Playhouse in Vinton. Familiar faces return in the cast of four– Chris Reidy as Elyot, Wendy Newman as his ex-wife Amanda, Christy Remy as his new bride Sibyl, and Lucas Pickett as Amanda’s new husband Victor.
Elyot and Amanda, married to each other for three years but divorced for five, unexpectedly meet again during their respective honeymoons at a resort overlooking the Mediterranean with their new (and younger) spouses.
They are inadvertently registered in adjacent hotel rooms with adjoining balconies. They initially panic when they discover what has happened; however, despite a perpetually tumultuous relationship that led to their divorce, the former couple realizes that they still have feelings for each other– there is still a spark, which they quickly set about rekindling.
Star City owner Marlow Ferguson said he chose “Private Lives” as the second production of the 2018 season because it is simply “the funniest love story I have ever seen. Coward has a sense of fun I have never seen in another playwright.”
The play was written by the renowned Noel Coward, who also performed the lead role, along with Gertrude Lawrence, Adrienne Allen, and Laurence Olivier. It opened in London in 1930 and then in New York. “Private Lives” has been revived several times onstage, as recently as last year, was made into a motion picture, and has been adapted for radio and television. In one production, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had the starring roles as the divorced couple.
Coward is said to have sketched out the play while ill with influenza in Shanghai, and then wrote it in four days. Originally there was some objection by a royal in London to Act 2 as “too risqué.”
“Private Lives” is set in 1930 with Act 1 taking place in a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean and then moves to a flat in Paris for Acts 2 and 3.
The play opens with newlyweds Elyot and Sibyl on the terrace. She immediately– with her petulant curiosity– puts a damper on their honeymoon with her unrelenting interrogation about his relationship with his ex-wife, revealing her insecurities and jealousy. She points out Amanda’s bad temper and infidelities that he has mentioned. The question quickly occurs in the mind of the audience– “How did these two make it to the altar?”
There is much sobbing on her part, which he finds off-putting and not conducive to romance.
As they exit, Victor and Amanda appear on their own balcony, where he, too, has questions about her feelings for her ex. Victor is focused on the cruelty Elyot displayed toward Amanda during their marriage as if to remind her why her first marriage ended.
After initially trying to convince their new spouses to leave the hotel and salvage their wedding trips, Elyot and Amanda instead give into their rediscovered feelings and decide to abandon their new partners and steal away to Paris. Once they take up residence, they resort to their former volatile relationship in a never-ending cycle of love and bickering. They promise to limit their spats and adopt the code word “Sollocks” to stop their arguments from getting out of hand. As the old adage goes, “They can’t live without each other, but they can’t live with each other, either.”
After a particularly rowdy evening, involving much brandy, which results in Amanda smashing a record over Elyot’s head and a reciprocating slap to her face, Victor and Sibyl show up at the apartment.
The next morning when Amanda tries to sneak away, she encounters Sibyl and Victor. There is another physical altercation—this time between Elyot and Victor. Divorce between the new spouses is postponed, when surprisingly Victor and Sibyl take up arguing as well.
Amanda and Elyot tiptoe out as the curtain falls on Victor and Sibyl in their first violent quarrel and passionate embrace.
Chris Reidy augments his reputation with another stellar performance in “Private Lives.” He has been featured in several lead roles at Star City during their year in the Vinton location in “The Nerd,” “Enemy of the People,” “Bus Stop,” and “Second Man.” He stands out whether the production is comedy, drama, or tragi-comedy.
Lucas Pickett has appeared at Star City in Vinton in “Enemy of the People” and “Second Man,” as well. He has grown with every production.
Wendy Newman most recently appeared in the Star City production of “Bridal Party,” which was part of their series of free lunchtime one act plays over the holiday season. She gives a polished, sultry, and quixotic performance in her current role. Christy Remy also had a part in the “Bridal Party” production. She convincingly portrays the distraught and pouting Sibyl as her marriage disintegrates before it even begins.
Star City Playhouse co-owner and resident playwright Karon Semones Ferguson has outdone herself in costume design with “Private Lives.” The main centerpiece in the staging are the gates patterned after the Chrysler Building elevator doors in New York where the Fergusons first started their theatre company. The doors were produced by Twists and Turns and the Fergusons brought them from their Roanoke theater when Star City moved to Vinton last year. One of Amanda’s dramatic gowns in black and white is patterned after an Erte painting of the era. Delightful period music plays during the intermissions with some humming of favorites and a dance tune played during the performance.
“Private Lives” opens at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 6. Performances are on Friday nights at 7 with matinees on Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m. on weekends through April 22.
“Private Lives” has three acts with two intermissions and runs a little over two hours Tickets are $12 for adults, and $8 for seniors and students.
Star City Playhouse is located on Pollard Street in downtown Vinton at the corner of Washington Avenue. Parking is currently available across the street at the former Vinton Motors, in the Vinton Baptist parking lot, behind the theater at the Farmers’ Market, and throughout downtown Vinton. Call 366-1446 for reservations.