REVIEW: Laughter laps along shores of ‘Private Lives’

“Private Lives”

By Noel Coward

Directed by Carl Ritchie

Taconic Stage Company

 

WHEN TACONIC STAGE COMPANY is in session, laughter repeatedly sails out of the Lighthouse Marina over beautiful Copake Lake. This time it’s for the durable old Noel Coward play “Private Lives.”

The theater’s environment is not your typical dinner theater. It seems that Artistic Director Carl Ritchie has captured a winning mode. It’s summer. (In the audience, there are no suits and very few high heels.) The sunset drags up memories of family vacations or weeks of summer camp at a lake. The evening has food, and you stand in line with the other campers, plate in hand. You get a grown-up drink from the cash bar. The room is jammed, and there is a roar of talk at every table before the play begins. You sit thigh to thigh with the other “kids,” and no one talks about the stock market.

The kids in this audience are prosperous and unapologetically gray-streaked adults. Probably most of us have seen “Private Lives” before, but the food-and-drink “foreplay” has left us primed for a good time.

It is surprising that the play delivers a good time as often as it does–in view of the fact that these characters are basically shallow, self-absorbed and love-challenged. “I am no good at love,” Coward-the-poet says. “…I feel the misery of the end in the moment it begins.” He does, but we don’t, because a glaze of irresistible witticisms covers the foreground and for an evening, it is usually enough.

The actors in this production are handsome and well-staged; but I fear they try too hard. To those who have observed Ritchie (all ease, elegance and charm), introducing the musicals he has written and directed, the role of Elliot would seem to be a perfect fit. However, too many lines are underlined or italicized—too many witticisms that need to be lightly tossed are hurled straight front, vaudeville fashion. Physically, the beautiful Susan Fullerton would seem to be made for the part of Sybil, but her breezy, upper-class demeanor seems pasted-on rather than born to the manner. Jeffrey Judd as her bedeviled new husband is fine; but only Leda Hodgson’s simple, un-pressed authority captures the necessary style-with-reality. (Hodgson may also be seen at St. John in the Wilderness church in Copake Falls in the one-act play by Alan Bennett, “A Woman of Letters.”) As the French maid, Louise Pillai is disturbingly over the top.

Of course, it is difficult to argue with laughter, and Ritchie audiences always get lots of them.

His sets on this tiny stage work okay, and one of them boasts a lovely settee with matching side chairs. Costumes by Sandra Cuoco are convincing, especially the sleek gowns on these sylphic women.

“Private Lives” runs through September 4. For tickets call (518) 325-1234.

 

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