Saturday, March 18, 2006

Play: Gin Fizz

Private Lives: By Noel Coward, Directed by Gabriel Barre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, March 2 - April 1, 2006

I think I've mentioned that the Rep's season has been a bit rocky this year - leading off with a puppet show, taking a swerve into comedia d'el arte, pulling a Neil Simon play for one by the late August Wilson. And there was originally a world premiere in this slot, which hasn't seen the light of day, instead replaced with an old traditional - Private Lives.

The white signs in the lobby warn that there will be a brief nudity and a strobe light between acts II and III. It also goes on that in respect for the author and his times, there will be smoking on stage. Oddly enough, there is no mention of there being drinking and domestic violence on stage in respect for the author and his times, but I guess that's just a given. Indeed, one of the draws of Noel Coward plays over the years is the prospect of seeing the wealthier classes behaving badly.

Amanda (Suzanne Bouchard) and Elyot (Rob Breckenridge) are paragons of that class. They had a stormy marriage five years back, divorced, and now enounter each other on their respective honeymoon nights with their new spouses. They waver for a bit, then fall back into their dysfunctional relationship, abandoning their new spouses and holing up in Pari, where they attempt to be better than they were but fall prey to their old tendencies.

Of course, all this spins out with wit and verve, so you don't take too hard a look at the social questions underpinning all this. Both leads deal with their characters being charming and horrid within the space of a single sentence. Bouchard is . . . well . . . a hottie, and smokes and repels in equal measure. Breckenridge comes off as a bit too coarse in some places, a bit too fey in others, but then, that's the nature of the play. Interestingly enough, the Lovely Bride has castigated some plays from the standpoint that "There would not be a plot if there were decent divorce laws." In this case, they would need decent divorce laws and an 100 yard restraining order to defang this particular work.

Allen Fitzpatrick and Nikki Coble play the respective spouses, and though they seem disposable at the outset, they bring a little more solidity to their roles as they move through. Coble in particular as the brokenhearted, fragile new wife makes you feel sorry for her as she is coaxing out laughs.

And the sets - a pair of balconies for the first act, the hidden lovenest that becomes a battlefield in the second, got applause when the curtain went up. I never figured that out, myself, though they were effective sets within the large expanse of the Bagley Wright stage, confining and distilling down the action. But the strobes between Acts II and III? Didn't work for me at all.

As for the play itself within the larger season - sometimes you throw your fastball. Sometimes you throw your curve. And sometimes you just pitch. This was just a pitch, and it was good enough.

More later,