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Private Lives

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Though Noel Coward is known for glib repartee, dry-witted observations, and supercilious dialogue—as evidenced by such popular plays of his as Hay Fever and Present Laughter—a small cadre of literary scholars over the last three decades or so have dared to consider Coward’s canon as more closely aligned with the dramatic works of Eugene Ionesco or Samuel Beckett, and, therefore, more properly acknowledged along with the aforementioned playwrights, as being akin to the  Theater of the Absurd genre of drama.

Coward’s plots are, after all, more similar to Sartre’s No Exit than to Miller’s so-called common man tragedy, Death of a Salesman. In a 1984 essay, for instance, critic Archie J. Loss suggested that nothing can happen in the relationship of Elyot and Amanda from Coward’s classic Private Lives, for “they are bound to repeat themselves, playing out their scene again and again with different words and different props but always with the same result.”

 

That’s surely an astute perception, but Coward’s plays may ultimately be more about wry word journeys and dueling dialogue than any grand philosophical scheme. In fact, from the outset and traditionally, Coward’s scripts have been criticized for their lack of substance.

Now, in a production at Long Beach’s International City Theatre through September 18,  Private Lives is adroitly directed by Luke Yankee. In a recent Long Beach Press-Telegram interview, Yankee suggested that Coward “didn’t want to do ‘substance.’”

Nevertheless, Coward’s singular ability to craft dicey dialogue remains undisputed. Luckily for So Cal theatergoers, Yankee helms a cast and crew that puts the focus of this Private Lives right where it best belongs—on that unique trait of Coward’s to articulate what most of us can only wish we could think to say during those mortifying moments where words fail to fall trippingly from our tongues.

The zingers fly freely, as if such witticisms and wordy wickedness were the natural result of human interaction and spontaneous ego combustibility. And why not? The situation is ripe for conflict as we meet Sibyl and Elyot Chase on their honeymoon in France.  This is Elyot’s second marriage, coming after an ugly divorce from wife number one, the tart-mouthed Amanda.

Coincidentally, Amanda has also recently remarried, this time to Victor Prynne. To add soreness to this synchronicity, it so happens that the two couples are celebrating their newest nuptial arrangements at the same hotel—and on the same floor, next door to one another.  What could go wrong, right?  

Freddy Douglas portrays Elyot as an aristocrat with a fast mind and dour demeanor. Douglas’ Elyot oozes condescension and haughtiness. What’s more, Douglas is the very embodiment of this most Coward- esque of characters; he’s both sophisticated and aggravated.

Matching Douglas’ sly performance, moment-to-moment and barb-to-barb, is Caroline Kingsolver as Amanda. The chemistry of these two actors together creates an alchemy that is not only believable but inexhaustibly entertaining.

Adding support to the awkward assignations that occur as the playful plot unfolds are Janice Butler and Adam J. Smith as Sybil and Victor Prynne. Butler displays Sibyl’s emotional state with dainty sobs and tearful wails, exhibiting a range that is convincing and comical

Meanwhile, Smith’s Victor serves as the imperfect foil for Douglas’ bitter and biting Elyot. The tongue-tying exchanges between these two performers are a highlight of the show. What’s more, Smith’s enactment of Victor’s mental denseness is an unexpected side delight of the proceedings.

Played out on Kurt Boetcher’s elegant set design, with the soft enhancements of Bill Georges’ lighting and sound design, as well as the authentic looking 1930s style costuming by Kim DeShazo, this ICT production of Private lives is right and ready for a public viewing. Just as Amanda professes early-on in the play, “no one is really normal…in their private lives,” this well polished show gives us an ever-current look at the foibles lying just beneath the surface of human behavior.

Private Lives continues at the International City Theatre—300 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach—through September 18. Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (562) 436-4610. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.                  

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.