Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s summer offering is a delectable revival of Noel Coward’s durable farce, “Private Lives.” Conceived 78 years ago during a sleepless night in a Tokyo hotel, the comedy was constructed in its entirety by dawn and completed by the playwright in a mere four days. Director Paul Mullins has harnessed the manners of the period and shows respect for the play’s intrinsic sense of style and grace, while the attractively able cast displays a keen awareness of Coward’s gift for verbal musicality, capturing the rhythm of the dialogue and pulse of the period.
Devilishly simple in design, the ageless comedy finds a divorced couple meeting again while honeymooning with their new mates at a posh French resort. They realize instantly they are still very much in love, fleeing together to a Paris nest only to engage in a series of turbulent rows before being tracked down by their new spouses, who have followed in hot pursuit.
Amanda Prynne is played by with alluring elegance and finesse by Caralyn Kozlowski. Humming the strains of Coward’s “Someday I’ll Find You” in the calm before the storm, she is the essence of the playwright’s “pretty and sleek” sophisticate, handling the barbs with the lethal accuracy of a pointed rapier.
Scott Barrow is crisply starch as Amanda’s former hubby, Elyot Chase: debonair, flippant and petulant. As the warring lovers, they go at each other “hammer and tongs,” notably in a second-act brawl staged by fight director Rick Sordelet. Gramophone records are busted over Elyot’s head, feathery pillows are tossed about and torn apart and furniture is overturned, reducing the set to a shambles by the time the curtain descends.
Dandy support comes from Robert Gomes as Amanda’s stuffy new husband, who defines pomposity with militant poise. And one can’t quibble with Sybil as acted by Charlotte Parry. She is a delightfully mousy twit and a “completely feminine little creature” who whines with squeaky grandeur. She also leaps over a sofa with Olympian agility.
The third act cameo of a disgruntled French maid is played by Mary Dierson with great comic abandon, entering following a battle royal, only to stumble in the dark over the wreckage of the night before.
James Wolk’s set design moves from a moonlight terrace to a stylish Paris apartment that serves as a battleground. Despite the presence of a Picasso, there are a tad too many brightly colored art works that reach to the ceiling, intruding visually on the intimacy of the action.