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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
PRIVATE LIVES
at the Music Box

MUTUAL MADNESS
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Kim Cattrall and Simon Paisley Day/ Ph: Cylla von Tiedemann

What goes on behind a couple’s closed doors is their business – unless, of course, they’re married to two other people. Noel Coward’s 1930s comedy of manners (or lack thereof) and marriages features the feisty beauty Amanda (Kim Cattrall) and the headstrong, handsome Elyot (Paul Gross) as a pair driven to mutual distraction by their passion for one another. Trouble is, that passion shifts with almost metronomic regularity from adoration to abhorrence. Following a short-lived marriage, the two firebrands decided, with uncharacteristic good sense, to divorce and try to pursue sedate, sensible, normal lives.

But that’s all preamble: As the play opens, it’s five years later and the two have accidentally chosen adjoining suites in which to enjoy their honeymoons – with their new spouses. What happens from then on may not hold much surprise, but does provide a fair number of laughs, a soupcon of suspense, and a good dose of dueling and devotion.

As the long-lost lovers, Cattrall and Gross are a perfect pair: Both characters are too savage, sarcastic and smart for their tame new helpmates, and the two actors make the inevitability of their connection clear. Despite some initial feints at resistance, the sheer relief they feel at their reunion is palpable: They immediately engage with each other, utterly and absolutely, excluding everyone else from their world of two. And while their shared addiction to histrionics and hysteria makes their careening from love to hate and back again completely convincing, it’s also clear that they bring out the competitively bipolar side in one another, as their antics keep escalating.

Even though Elyot’s young wife, the prim Sybil, gets a snarky edge from actress Anna Madeley, and Victor (Simon Paisley Day), Amanda’s jilted husband, seems rather sweet for all his bluster, they’re clearly no match for the dynamic duo.

Coward gets off some crackerjack oneliners, but there’s a shade of wistfulness, too – and not just for the grande amour of Amanda and Elyot’s mutual madness. In his dissection of their dynamic there’s a distance that suggests there is something to be said for the calm, unruffled relationships they sacrifice. Nonetheless, that folie a deux is the spectacle that keeps us watching the play.

But while the passion never feels out-of-date in Richard Eyre’s beautifully staged production, the physical violence can seem at times more sinister than slapstick. Perhaps worse than the anachronistic ghost of political correctness, though, is that the play’s pacing feels slow, particularly in the second act, as Amanda and Elyot run through their love-hate routine over and over. But despite an occasional period plodding, the wit and ardor of the play’s lines and the leads help keep the octogenarian comedy surprisingly spritely – and spirited.    

 


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