The elegance of the 1930s takes the stage in PlayMakers’s production of the comedy classic “Private Lives” tonight.
Written by English playwright Noel Coward, “Private Lives” tells the story of a divorced couple who, while honeymooning with their new spouses, realize that they are staying in adjacent rooms in the same hotel.
Peek into “private lives”
Time: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:00 p.m.; Feb. 1, 2:00 p.m.
Location: Paul Green Theatre
“It’s a classic relationship comedy,” said Sean Daniels, director of the production. “We’ve been doing this play for 80 years because it’s about the choices we make in life. Do we choose what’s exciting, volatile and potentially great, or what’s calming, steadfast and stable?”
Daniels, named one of the 15 up-and-coming artists in the United States by American Theatre Magazine, has had great interest in directing a classic theatrical comedy and said he’s excited to bring it to life for audiences today.
“People can sometimes worry about seeing classical theater, like it’s code for boring and let’s get some sleep in, but there are truly few shows as vibrant, charming, and funny as this,” he said. “We often refer to it as drinking a glass of champagne and then having a cupcake. It’s so sugar-filled and delightful — it in no way feels like a soggy, old piece.”
The show is styled in a similar fashion to when it was first staged. The theater has been transformed to look like a 1930s supper club, with tables around the set where upgraded ticket holders can enjoy appetizers and drinks during the performance.
“It’s a really iconic piece,” said Julie Fishell, the show’s female lead. “Beautiful dancing, ‘30s slang, all of that stuff’s there — but it’s all rooted in immediacy. It’s in the audience that’s there that night, there in the moment, as well as in the actors and writing.”
Fishell plays the character of Amanda Prynne, one of the divorcees unwittingly honeymooning next to her ex-husband.
“The great fun of getting into the world of these characters is that it’s so unrealistic,” she said. “This woman’s job is to create drama, and she does it well.”
The play is performed over three acts, during which the central characters ricochet between emotional extremes while trying to maintain their composure.
“These characters have an enormous desire to live the lives they want,” said Jeffery Blair Cornell, who plays the male divorcee in the show. “You really get caught up in the need of these people and it’s almost like being swept away in a river. In real life the situation would be tragic, but instead it’s funny.”
Cornell plays Elyot Chase, the impassioned ex-husband of Fishell’s Amanda.
“This play has been quite demanding, but surprising,” Cornell said. “It’s surprising how much there is to play with as an actor. These are real flesh and blood people, and even in this silly comedy, it’s a real joy to bring them to life.”
Daniels said despite the play’s classical nature, its characters will still resonate with audience members.
“It’s one of the many great things about classical theater,” Daniels said. “You get to go and see these moments on stage where people are dealing with the same issues we’re dealing with, all written years before we were even alive. That’s what people get out of this. You feel a little less alone in the universe.”
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