Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 20, 2015

Private Lives

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through February 8, 2015
by Barbara Stroup

For at least 90 minutes, it is possible to leave serious considerations behind while enjoying “Private Lives,” the well-paced production currently offered at Hartford Stage.

Superior acting and a Noel Coward classic combine to breathe life into the private but frivolous lives of two badly paired couples. Audiences can forgive them their shallow self-concern because Coward writes so well for this kind of superficiality that laughter, rather than scorn, is the result. The world the characters inhabit does not have work or responsibility or weighty issues in its landscape, as they mix their cocktails and unsuccessfully attempt to convince themselves they are hitched properly for life. Mayhem results, and coupling at last is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and that really is all that happens. Can it be enough to entertain for 90 minutes?

In this production, it most definitely serves. The staging is exquisite as the director requires actors to climb railings in tuxedos and to stay in almost constant motion. Costumes for the wife Amanda, as well as the husbands in the play, are breathtaking, but that of the other wife Sybil is almost a mockery.

Photo by: T. Charles Erickson
Alexander Dodge should win any prize that might exist for scenic design. Act II’s Paris flat contains two staircases with deco railings; animal prints and stripes are everywhere. Dominated at center by a tiger face, the set is a classy, perfectly-stated apartment that is used to every advantage by the director. It includes a grand piano, ably played by Ken Barnett, during the two minute, delicately choreographed time-out the couple uses to avoid bickering. The whole production is a feast for the eyes and the rotating stage is used with perfect timing.

Hartford Stage treats audiences to a display of costumes from other productions in its lobby. The play, which runs without intermission, is a warm bubble in a cold winter.