by DICK KEREKES
The newest theatre company in this area opened its first major production in the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine with a delightful revival of the Noel Coward classic Private Lives. It will continue through July 26 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday matinees at 2 PM in the Ponce de Leon Mall, 2121 US 1 South. Call 797 6744 for reservations or visit their website at www.theatresaintaugustine.com.
The brilliant Noel Coward wrote this well known and often done comedy while he was in bed with the flu in China, writing the entire show in four days!! It opened in l930 with him in the leading role and its popularity has never waned. It has been revived on Broadway six times and won the 2002 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and Best Actress.
The story centers on Elyot and Amanda, two wealthy and stylish Brits in their 30s, who have been divorced for five years but are accidently reunited on each one’s honeymoon with new spouses! The two couples are in the same French Riviera hotel with adjoining balconies.
Amanda and Elyot sneak away from his new wife Sybil, her new husband Victor to her Paris apartment, an action that was quite scandalous in the 30s. Act two occurs in a Paris apartment where the reunited couple fight like cat and dogs until Sybil and Victor, (who have joined forces) arrive to settle who is married to whom.
I think it was Byron who once wrote “you can’t live with them (women) and you can’t live without them. Coward explores an idea of some substance: the relationship between two people who are unable to live together and yet unable to live apart. I am sure you know couples tortured by the impossibility of loving who have fallen in and out of love. The situation is froth with difficult but very funny with the witty dialogue of Mr. Coward.
The Director Kathryn P. Meade came to town from Louisville Kentucky just to direct this play, and she has done a marvelous job creating a first class truly professional production from top to bottom.
Robb Chamberlin as Elyot is wonderfully dapper, sexy and prepossessing. Mr. Chamberlain is new to St. Augustine, and was previously active in movie roles and doing roles on stage at Theatre Downtown in Orlando. Anna Meade is also new to this area and is the energy behind this new theatre company as its artistic director. She is an attractive and intriguing Amanda. Ms. Meade captures the many facets of this alluring woman who defies convention but is so effervescent as she does it. She also sings in this role and has a musical theatre background as well.
Katie Timoney is delightful as Sybil, Elyot’s young bride, who is a bit self-righteous, and naive but still a proper British lady. I have been following Tyler Patton’s acting career since I first saw him in a high school play in Jacksonville several years. I like how he has stretched himself into a variety of different and challenging roles. I especially enjoyed how he portrays the proper Englishman, Victor, who has a dry sense of humor but changes in the final act to a petulant, provoked and potent person
My pet peeve with British plays has usually been with the accents. Everyone in this play is excellent at the English brogue by except for Diandra Pendleton Thompson who plays Louise, the maid who speaks marvelous French, which you will easily understand because of her (oh la la) body language.
This theatre is in a store front and has limited space, but both the Act I balcony scene and the Act 2, Paris apartment are well executed and designed. When you go pay attention to the excellent stage blocking (movement) on the balcony and the way the Director made this scene come to life with movement.
Susan Graffweg’s costumes are lovely and capture the period to a “T”. Technical Director David King’s sound was right on the mark with music that took us back to the l930s. The playbill even has a small glossary of British terms that may be unfamiliar to you. Words like mucker (dirty old man) or caraway biscuit (a classic British snack).
If you like intimate theatre, you are going to love going to this theatre. It is like going to a movie with a giant screen because you are so close to the action and can see every wink, raised eyebrow or sly smile up-close and personal.
If you enjoy good theatre, keep your eye on this group for future productions. They know what they are doing, how to do it and certainly have covered all the bases with this excellent production of one of the true classics of romantic comedy, Private Lives. Don’t miss it.
by DICK KEREKES