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Review- Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”

Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”– Just How Private?

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

In the International City Theater’s light-hearted production of “Private Lives,” divorced couple Elyot and Amanda cannot seem to live with-or without- each another. Caroline Kinsolving embodied the headstrong, alluring Amanda while Freddy Douglass portrayed the witty, brooding Elyot Chase. The glamorous costumes and music in the ICT production enhanced the accidental reunion of the jet-setting pair in Deauville, France. Elyot and Amanda go from loving each other one minute to throwing barbs (and records) at each other the next. Adam J. Smith‘s sensitive performance as Amanda’s caring second husband Victor infused a dose of integrity to the chaos; despite being ditched by the runaway bride, he returned to ensure her safety. Underneath the veneer of biting wit and tumultuous emotions, one could not help but feel that something was missing- not from ICT’s production- but from Coward’s play itself. Looking at the play from a historical perspective, Mr. Coward was a homosexual at a time in which he would have been jailed had his private life been made public. Had Elyot and Amanda been gay characters, many of the play’s scenes would have made more sense and had more depth. For instance, Elyot’s affectionate young bride, Sibyl (Jennice Butler) begs him three times on their honeymoon to kiss her; he forces himself to do so reluctantly. Later, when accused of being too flippant, Elyot retorts that his flippancy masks deeper emotions. Perhaps the flippancy of Coward’s lines also masked a more complex subtext. But, Coward was no coward. His predecessor Oscar Wilde died in prison when his private life was revealed.  Private Lives proves that in the 1930′s England one could only go so far in exploring the truly private.

Posted by on August 28th, 2011

2 Comments

  1. Mitchell says:

    As a 61 year old gay man who wrote his MA thesis on a comparison of “Private Lives” and “The Important of Being Earnest: I am appalled by the sheer presumtuous, “aren’t I clever” suggestion that “Private Lives” is meant to be a disguised version of a gay couple. How ignorant and how pathetic! I took a workshop 30 years ago with dramatist Edward Albee, who had similarly stupid observations made about his “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf” for years, which he told me he found infuriating.
    Wilde died in 1900 — 31 years before Coward wrote “Private Lives.” Granted, the English homosexual was very discreet between Wilde’s death and the change in homosexuality laws that resulted from the Woldenden Report in the 60′s. But in his diaries and complete letters and in several short stories, notably “Me And The Girls,” Coward was often very upfront about homosexuality. Clearly you imagine your observations in this egregious review are clever and novel, but they aren’t. They are stupid, and stale.

    • culturalcocktailhour says:

      Dear Mr. Geller,
      With great sadness, I read your comment today regarding my review of the ICT production of “Private Lives.”
      The intent behind my review was not, as you surmised, to be “clever” or “novel,” but to search for a deeper meaning in a production that unfortunately, I found to be lacking in emotional richness and motivation for the protagonists. Perhaps this was due in part to the staging of the specific production. Had I seen the production staged elsewhere, I may have come to a different conclusion. I could only go by my reaction to the production in front of me, which unfortunately had somehow fallen flat. I did not feel pathos for the characters or for the dichotomy between the paths they left and the lives they chose. In understanding the great injustices historically faced by English homosexuals,, a subconscious analysis of the pain felt by those facing injustice served as a possible explanation for the missing dimension of pathos in that production.
      I appreciate your bringing to my attention the Wolfendon Report and the progress made by this legislation. Incidentally, Oscar Wilde is a personal hero of mine.
      Finally, when we get to the question of the author’s intent, I will leave you with the words of William Faulkner. His story “ A Rose for Emily” has been interpreted manifold ways, with many readers guessing as to his intent:
      “Now that I don’t know, because I was simply trying to write about people. The writer uses environment–what he knows–and if there’s a symbolism in which the lover represented the North and the woman who murdered him represents the South, I don’t say that’s not valid and not there, but it was no intention of the writer to say, Now let’s see, I’m going to write a piece in which I will use a symbolism for the North and another symbol for the South, that he was simply writing about people, a story which he thought was tragic and true, because it came out of the human heart, the human aspiration…”
      In other words, the freedom of literature is that it allows each of us to, despite the author’s intent, find meaning for ourselves.

      Best Regards,
      LMS

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