'Private Lives' examines marriage relationships

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 1:22 p.m. MDT

"PRIVATE LIVES," Caine Old Lyric Theatre, Logan, two-hour running time, $25-$9, 435-797-8022 or arts.usu.edu

LOGAN — The second offering of the summer season of the Old Lyric Repertory Company, Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” is a work that might be thought of as a choice opportunity for an actor to shine. It’s a talky, witty, dialogue-dominated satirical look at relationships. Also, there is very little action — and only three other actors — to compete with.

And the set-up penned by Coward in 1930 is perfect for a romantic comedy: a divorced couple end up in adjoining terraced hotel rooms, each on their honeymoon with new spouses.

Married for three years, then divorced for five, Elyot Chase (Nicholas Dunn) and Amanda Prynne (Tamari Dunbar) can never quite articulate why they fell out of love, even when persistently pestered by their new partners, Victor Prynne (Gordon Dunn) and Sybil Chase (Amanda Mahoney) to describe their earlier relationship.

As Sybil, Mahoney is a prying young bride who knocks (literally) on the point of being obnoxious. Mahoney has a real knack for timing and is a strong presence on stage. When new groom Victor, meanwhile, wants to hear more about Amanda’s first marriage, Dunn plays a perfectly snarky, unlikeable, pipe-smoking stereotypical English uppercrust husband.

Dunn as Elyot gets all of the biting — almost mean — comments in the play, all delivered with a flat, off-hand delivery. Of the four characters, though, it is Dunbar’s Amanda who eventually becomes the center hub. Dunbar works through her second strong OLRC effort (also playing a lead in “Steel Magnolias”) as she sets up Victor to be a bit of a fall guy and Elyot to be a co-conspirator.

“Private Lives” is, in part, an examination of control in a relationship — can you control, should you control, how to control others. The banter also demonstrates how confusing what is unsaid, lying just below the surface of what is said, can be as the couples try to manage and control each other.

With all the character development needed, the first act surprisingly zips right along, the intermission almost surprising the audience after 45 minutes. Act 2, though, tires a bit as Elyot and Amanda lounge about and try to get to know each again. At times it felt more like an opportunity for Dunn and Dunbar to just share memorized lines than to open underlying themes of right and wrong and public vs. private behavior.

The couple just can’t seem to stop needling each other and picking at scabs, even though they both admit they have this “chemical, what-do-you-call-it?” reaction to each other. There is a scene with a well-choreographed quarrel — almost a fight — between the couple before the final act brings on some sort of conclusion.

Noteworthy on the technical side is an excellent lighting scheme by Milinda Weeks, which highlights a solid set design by Dennis Hassan. Both sets are seemingly simple, yet eye-filling.

The production ultimately felt a bit like the on-stage pillow fight near the end of the play — mildly entertaining and watchable, but not a knockout, with no memorable punches thrown.

“Private Lives” runs in repertory with “Steel Magnolias,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Big River.”

Jay Wamsley lives in Smithfield and covers events in and around Cache Valley, including more than 25 years of the Old Lyric Repertory Company. He can be reached at jaywams01@gmail.com.

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