Friday, November 18, 2011

Sex in the Settee

Noël Coward's Private Lives gets revived on Broadway every ten years or so. I can't complain because the current Broadway revival, which opened Thursday at the Music Box Theatre, is the first opportunity I've had to see the play. But those that have seen it may wonder about the necessity of another mounting. The success of the play hinges on who is cast as the two leads. Right now, Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall are making a pretty convincing case for this revival.

Gross and Cattrall play Elyot and Amanda, a couple that have been divorced for five years. They meet again while honeymooning in neighboring rooms with balconies. (It's Noël Coward. Suspend your disbelief.) It doesn't take long to realize they still have passionate feelings for each other, so they run away to her flat in Paris. During intermission, Rob Howell's set is transformed from the exterior of a hotel to a deliciously tacky flat, complete with ducks on the walls and a giant fishbowl.

Gross and Cattrall are a sexy pair and believable as a couple who alternate between wanting to sleep together or kill each other. Fans of Cattrall in Sex in the City (confession: I am one) may see a little bit of Samantha Jones in Amanda with her progressive sexual ideas, but Cattrall is not rehashing that role. She gets at the many layers of Amanda and when the play starts, you get the sense that she could be happy with her new husband, the stuffy Victor (Simon Paisley Day). Gross, who my Canadian friend explained to me is their Tom Cruise, cuts quite the dashing figure and has comedic timing to boot. The rest of the cast, though they don't have as much to do, is strong as well, in particular Day, who manages to give Victor a little bit of an edge so he doesn't come off as a one-note stick in the mud.

As entertaining as most of the play is in these capable hands, the second act starts to drag and director Richard Eyre could have perhaps better tackled the problematic physical abuse. But then again, the play was written in 1930 and I don't think everything needs to be reworked to be made palatable for modern audiences. Still, it's hard to laugh at a couple slapping each other around.

Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

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