Directed by Robin New, the 1930 comedy of manners “Private Lives” centers on Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne, a divorced couple who discover they are honeymooning with their new spouses in the same hotel - in rooms with an adjoining balcony, no less.
Even before this revelation leads to a string of comic episodes, neither set of honeymooners appears capable of setting the right romantic mood since their respective conversations rarely stray from the topic of the previous marriage. As the play progresses, it becomes painfully apparent that Elyot and Sybil can neither live without each other nor with each other, setting up a scurrilous cycle of love and hate as they repeatedly bicker and make tentative peace.
Meanwhile, Elyot’s new bride, Sybil; and Amanda’s new husband, Victor, are left to sort out the havoc left behind by the tumultuous reunion.
Toby Manion portrays Elyot, underscoring the character’s aristocratic vanity and accompanying vacuity. The character’s boundless pragmatism results in some ruthless quotes, and Manion clearly relishes the decadence in delivering deadpan lines such as “If you don’t stop screaming, I’ll murder you,” a warning to his sobbing new bride, Sybil.
Amanda is played by Barbara Anthony, who likewise creates a comic caricature lampooning upper class arrogance. Anthony maintains the character’s veneer of respectability until the storyline calls upon her to reveal the lusty tigress lurking beneath the surface.
Tracy Borgatti’s Sybil is no less overbearing than Elyot, though decidedly more shrill. Borgatti embodies the dynamic and untamed emotions of a proper Englishwoman spurned. Her on-stage fits of delicious melodrama are delightful.
Joseph Johnson, known for playing wise-cracking characters, takes on Victor a man with no sense of humor. Needless to say, the character’s terminal dullness and sobriety induce plenty of laughs.
One over-riding reason that Early Bird’s production of “Private Lives” is so successful is the familiarity of the actors. Manion, Anthony, Borgatti and Johnson have appeared in many of the theater’s productions, and they have undoubtedly formed a stage relationship that allows them to project a sense of tangible intimacy. When Elyot and Amanda wrestle - and it’s quite a bout - there’s no hesitation. When Sybil strokes Elyot’s hair, the act does not appear counterfeit in any way.
Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s ensemble cast serves up fine performances well-suited for Coward’s waggish dialogue, proving “Private Lives” remains as ribald and relishable as ever.