Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Theater Review: Private Lives

A Marriage on Display Still Can Be Private
By Lauren Yarger
The honeymoon is over even before it begins when Elyot (Paul Gross) and his new bride, Sybil (Anna Madeley) arrive for their wedding night at a hotel room next to the one shared by his ex, Amanda (Kim Cattrall, ), and her new husband, Victor (Simon Paisley Day), also on their honeymoon in a Broadway production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives.

Elyot and Amanda discover each other across the terrace, and try to hide the unfortunate coincidence from their rather uptight respective spouses who just wouldn’t understand. The loathing they have felt for each other during the five years they have been divorced suddenly turns to longing as the couple realize they still have feelings and decide to abandon their new spouses and run off to Amanda’s apartment in Paris.

They soon are drowning (literally, as Rob Howell’s Riviera terrace set is dismantled to reveal an aquarium-and-chrome themed pad complete with a humongous three-tiered fish tank) in the wave of their lust. When they come up for air, some of the issues that drove them apart –like a tendency toward arguments and violence-- surface with them. They decide the only thing that will serve as a lifeline for the relationship is a “stop” word that each can use when they feel an argument is getting out of hand. Once uttered, the couple falls into two minutes of silence.

Meanwhile, Sybil and Victor track the couple down and show up in the middle of a knock-down-drag-out fight between Elyot and Amanda that makes us really fear, at the very least, for the safety of the fish in that tank. The next morning, the maid, Louise (Caroline Lena Olsson) hardly is nonplussed to find the apartment wrecked and Sybil and Victor asleep in the living room. Could this be normal?

The new spouses try to find out where they stand given that the relationship between Amanda and Elyot seems over. Not all might be what it seems, however, since what keeps two people together might not be obvious, even when the couple’s relationship is swimming around in a fishbowl for all to see. After all, they ask, what is “normal” in our private lives?
While some of the play defers to plot needs rather than reality, there is much humor, subtly executed by Day who brings guffaws with simple lines like “hush now.” He is brilliant as the calm, steady, stodgy guy who suddenly finds himself neither calm nor steady. Director Richard Eyre highlights the sexiness of Cattrall’s character, but makes sure she portrays someone different from Samantha Jones, the “Sex and the City” role for which she is known. Gross also is known to fans of TV’s “Due South” and “Slings and Arrows.”

Not amusing, however, is the physical abuse and casual acceptance by everyone that Elyot hits Amanda, or the spanking of Sybil by Victor. That unfortunately might have been considered appropriate in 1930 when the play was written, but it’s hard to understand why audiences today will think it funny to see women treated this way. Perhaps producers were willing to overlook this in the hopes that this Coward play would run similar to the recent success of his others on the Great White Way, like Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit

Howell also doubles as costume designer creating beautiful period gowns and dresses for the women and dapper suits for the men. The three acts are presented with one intermission between the first two and a brief pause between the second and third. Running time is two hours and 50 minutes.

Private Lives is on view at The Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets, call 212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
--Show lists a Mature Advisory
--God’s name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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