Review: 'Private Lives'

By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Maybe the current Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives wouldn’t be ending so quickly if it had the same tone and pizzazz as the Private Lives that opened Wednesday in a production by Lantern Theater Company.

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Geneviève Perrier and Ben Dibble, in a copacetic moment in the Lantern Theater production of "Private Lives." Photo by Mark Garvin.

Lantern’s associate artistic director Kathryn MacMillan stages the play, which first came to Broadway 80 years ago, to target the laughs and not to capture the era, its prime focus in its seventh Broadway revival. There, it comes off as a look at the style of ’30s British elite that’s also a bickerfest meant for fun; at Lantern, it’s the other way around.

Good thing, because when you listen closely to Coward’s classic, there’s not much to it. What there is — rolling acrimony between a couple stuck in love, for worse or for worser — goes round and round.

At Lantern, this all comes off neatly because of the characterizations. The lines are interpreted with a back-and-forth that’s anything but sophisticated upper-class — more like the delivery from a dozen bad-mouthing TV couples in the marital comedy serials Private Lives not only predated but presaged.

The comedy involves a former husband and wife — polished portrayals with precision timing by Ben Dibble and Geneviève Perrier, who carries herself around the stage perfectly as an emancipated woman who’s odd for her time.

These exes get together again purely by chance and at the most awkward moment — they find themselves at the same resort in next-door rooms, each honeymooning with a new spouse. The new spouses are portrayed by Leonard C. Haas, who gets the most out of his role by playing the man as bewildered rather than simply stuffy, which is the more obvious reading, and K.O. DelMarcelle, who does a wonderful job of being spurned.

It helps that the intimate space at St. Stephen’s Theater in Center City brings us directly into the action, by turns nasty and lovey-dovey, and unfolds on Meghan Jones’ two handsome sets. It also helps that the cast looks gorgeous in Mark Mariani’s seriously thought-out period clothes. The details are nailed in place, and it’s wise of the company not to be hung on them but to head, instead, straight for the laughs.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
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Private Lives: Presented by Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets, through Dec. 31. Tickets: $20-$36. Information: 215-829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org.

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