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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
PRIVATE LIVES
at the Music Box

MARITAL MAYHEM
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall/ Ph: Cylla von Tiedemann

Her considerable box-office allure notwithstanding, Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City’s man-eating Samantha) proves a particularly poor choice to play Amanda, the fractious first wife in Noel Coward’s ultra-sophisticated, perennially delightful and (hitherto) seemingly indestructible beau monde Punch and Judy show, Private Lives.

Most salient among the strikes against Cattrall is – may one be blunt? – her age. The script, which Coward dashed off in 1930 as a vehicle for himself and pal Gertrude Lawrence, doesn’t specify Amanda’s precise vintage. However, her ex-spouse Elyot is identified as being 30, and they can be assumed to be age-mates – veterans of a volcanic marriage that lasted three years before erupting five years back. Kick all those figures up a quarter-century, and you’re dealing not with a couple of crazy kids resisting the sobering blandishments of middle age, but with a pair of superannuated brats.

Nobly partnering Cattrall (whose English accent appears as dicey and put on as her air of would-be refinement) is Paul Gross, familiar as the tormented director in the Canadian TV series “Slings and Arrows.” Gross’ age-erasing approach is simply to play it cool and debonair – jaded shading into cynical. We get Elyot’s number right off the bat, in his opening scene with his replacement wife, Sybil (the excellent Anna Madeley, here got up by set and costume designer Rob Howell to resemble Cattrall’s platinum-marcelled Amanda so closely, audiences new to the play are apt to greet her entrance with an explosion of misdirected celeb-applause).

I’ve seen effective productions in which Sybil was portrayed as a watered-down, marginally lower-class, aspirational version of Amanda (the latter being an effortless aristo through and through). Here, though, Cattrall’s Amanda, faintly but ineradicably vulgar in diction and deportment, appears to be the cheap imitation, and a shopworn one at that.

Distinguished director Richard Eyre has further skewed Coward’s delicate equation by selecting Simon Paisley Day – who presents as a homely, stereotypically stuffy British twit – to portray Amanda’s new hubby, Victor. What happened to the “quite nice-looking" man whom Coward described with measured but weighty words? Elyot traded up (or so he thought) in pursuing a younger, ideally more pliable paramour. Wouldn’t Amanda likewise logically seek some variation on her attractive ex-mate, and not this patently dull antithesis?

So the balance is all off, throughout. Not helping matters are Howell’s showy sets. His Deauville double-balcony looks like a louvered New Orleans manse by way of Tennessee Williams, and Amanda’s Parisian love nest is a cold, alienating hybrid of art deco and Sea World.

Eyre tosses in all sorts of unnecessary, unfunny physical bits – pratfalls, aquarium disasters (pity the captive fish!) – to enliven the second act, all to no avail. After a while, you may have no choice other than to abandon all hope, visually speaking, and just do your best to savor snatches of Coward’s wicked repartee.

 


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