Shakespeare & Company: 'Private Lives' is passion at full gallop


LENOX -- As played by Dana Harrison in Shakespeare & Company's stylish, fast-paced production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives," Amanda Prynne is a force of nature.

A freewheeling blithe spirit who plays by her own almost constantly changing rules, she absorbs life as only a woman of independent means can.

When we first see her on the balcony of a hotel in the south of France on what is supposedly a romantic moonlit honeymoon night (more like a harshly revealing midday sun as lit by designer James Bilnoski) she is a vision in white, freshly emerged from her bath, anticipating her new life as the wife of Victor Prynne (an appropriately appropriate Adam Huff).

Five years divorced from Elyot Chase (David Joseph) and only hours into her marriage with Victor, she will find all too soon that chance, fate, of a whimsical universe has put her in direct collision course with Elyot, who, unbeknownst to Amanda, is honeymooning in the room next door with his new wife, Sybil (a pitch-perfect, splendidly insipid -- Amanda's word for her -- Annie Considine).

From the moment Harrison's Amanda and Joseph's Elyot set eyes on one another after five years apart, it is clear that both the universe and a devilishly cunning playwright have been saving these two precisely for this moment.

They advance, retreat, probe, niggle, hesitate. Inevitability hangs in the air. It's never gone away.

It is clear that Amanda and Elyot are no good for anyone but each other. They fight (oh, how they fight and have fought; it's in their DNA as a couple); they laugh, they dance, they make love, they experience the world around them with overwhelming intensity and self-indulgent passion. Their lives, together and apart, are theater at its grandest.


The true stroke in director Tony Simotes' production is not only that Joseph and Harrison are so nicely matched but that, as Victor and Sybil, Huff and Considine work from full palettes.

If you have any doubts at all about Sybil as a match for Amanda, you have only to take in the brilliantly conceived and realized contrast between Sybil and Amanda in their respective evening dresses -- Sybil in a turqoise affair with small white polka dots, puffy layered short sleeves and a frilly white collar; Amanda in a long, shimmering, crimson dress whose fashionable simplicity belies its stunning elegance.

Huff and Considine bring Victor and Sybil fully into their own -- grounded, practical and pragmatic, unsentimental despite their wounds, and capable, in the end, of greater-than-one-might-have-expected resourcefulness. They are posed against Victor and Amanda's grand theatrics; theatrics buoyed by a keen understanding of who the other is. Eight years in love -- three married, five divorced, Amanda notes -- has taught them a great deal. These two are seasoned veterans of a game of living in which they have no peers but each other.


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