Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: 'Private Lives'

Getting down -- and going for the laughs -- in Lantern Theater's production of Noël Coward's classic in Center City. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: 'Private Lives'

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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.

By Howard Shapiro

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.

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,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,

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

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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