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REVIEW: Private Lives

April Porterfield
Renee Krapff, Greg White, Claudia Fain and David Fletcher-Hall prepare for Oklahoma Shakespeare in the park's upcoming production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives."
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Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s current production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives makes one wonder what the playwright would do if he were writing today. Coward’s take on the British upper class in this 1930 comedy, meh, less interesting.

According to OSP artistic director Kathryn McGill, this is the first time in its 33 seasons the company has staged a Coward play. That’s surprising. Coward was very much a playwright of his time, and his plays deserve a rethinking. OSP’s summer season at their Paseo location is a good place to do see if the plays can be relevant now.

Private Lives involves two upper-class newly wed British couples on their honeymoons who happen to occupy adjacent rooms of “a posh hotel in Deauville, France.” Early in the play, we see that the couples have a coincidental connection. The worldwide, economic depression of the time has had no effect on these people. In fact, they seem to have no idea what’s going on outside their little world.

The director Emily Heugatter has assembled a capable cast. Renee Krapff and Greg White play the first couple, Amanda and Elyot, and David Fletcher-Hall and Claudia Fain are the second couple, Victor and Sybil. At the reviewed performance, White and Fletcher-Hall took a while to warm up, but Krapff and Fain chewed the scenery from the start. A lot of this has to do with how Coward wrote the characters.

The production has serious sight-line problems (Lee Brasuell designed the set). It’s staged at one end of OSP’s rectangular space, and the actors and the audience are on the same level, except for a few rows of tiered seating at the back of the audience. Other than those seated in the first two rows or so, the audience views the actors from the waist up. When they sit, the actors disappear from view, and then the performance becomes more like hearing a radio broadcast of the show. This is too bad because Krapff and Fain have expressive faces that need to be seen. Krapff and White play much of the boisterous, quarrelsome second act on a fainting couch, thus much of it is out of clear sight.

The humor in this production is more appreciated than laughed at out loud. You can admire the continuous ebb and flow of the relationships. And Coward slings insults with the best of them: “intemperate tots,” “rampaging gasbag,” “ill-mannered, bad-tempered slattern,” “disagreeable pig,” “ridiculous ass.” “Les idiots,” the French maid mutters. Maybe other actors and another director would make a difference.

But come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Private Lives that worked that well today. When it was first staged in 1930, it was set in “the present,” and Coward’s making fun of the British upper class as frivolous and shallow had currency. Would that we had Noel Coward around today to write about Donald J. Trump, he could still use “rampaging gasbag” and “ridiculous ass.”

Private Lives
Thursday, August 24th, 2017 8:00pm to Sunday, August 27th, 2017 2:00pm
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
2920 Paseo
Oklahoma City, OK 73103
405-235-3700

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About the Author

Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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