Review “Private Lives”: Oh Coward, Brilliant!

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presentsprivate

Private Lives

Written by Noel Coward

Directed by Gary Griffin

Thru March 7th

Buy Tickets

Love –hate, marriage-divorce, sex-fighting, playwright Noel Coward blurs the lines between beginnings-endings in his romantic comedy Private Lives. Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents Private Lives, a hilarious romp about a couple madly in love for 8 years (three married and five divorced). While honeymooning with new spouses, the divorced couple rekindle their passionate affair. Penned by Coward in 1930, the witty dialogue proves timeless. In one exchange between new-old lovers, Elyot muses that the Catholic Church never recognized their second marriages anyway. Amanda reminds him that they aren’t Catholic. To which Elyot responds, “it’s just nice to have a big group cheering us on”. Private Lives is the intimate look at two people perfect-horrible for each other.

Private 1 001Under the direction of Gary Griffin, the fast-paced, clever script is delivered masterfully by the talented cast. The funny- wicked banter between Robert Sella (Elyot) and Tracy Michelle Arnold (Amanda) is like glimpsing at the best-worst moments of a relationship. Ongoing heated discussions lead to sexual foreplay- physical combat. Adding to the hilarity, supporting cast members Chaon Cross (Sybil) and Tim Campbell (Victor) deplore-defend their new spouses’ antics. Private 1 004 Griffin has flawlessly orchestrated the drama-comedy upon a revolving stage (designed by Neil Patel). The theatre-in-the-round rotates with increased velocity to mirror the action on stage. Add in stunning silky evening gowns and pajamas (Paul Tazewell), Private Lives spins a stylish tale of marriage-divorce from 1930-2010.

“I should like to ax your head off.” Although at times dark, the amusing repartee between Elyot and Amanda is meant to invoke laughter. It’s this theme of violence that might be sensitive to Today’s society. Although domestic violence isn’t funny, Coward’s depiction of a couple dueling it out with wits followed by physical aggression is. Much like Jackie Gleason’s ongoing threat to his wife in the television show The Honeymooners, “one of these days … Pow! Right in the kisser! One of these days Alice, straight to the Moon!” The humor in that 1950’s threat was Alice and the audience knew Ralph would never do it. Domestic violence is never funny! But living vicariously through Elyot and Amanda, Private Lives allows us to imagine playfully – seriously slapping a loved one upside the head. Delicious – wrong!

Enjoying the show at her favorite Chicago theatre, Jen says “it was a cleverly written and excellently delivered piece about what relationships might look like behind closed doors.”


Pre-show, we wine and cheesed it at the new Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan). Our server, Darma, very knowledgably made several recommendations. The menu is built around sharing small plates. Over a nice bottle of Chateau de Lasca, we purple pigged out. First, we had delicious roasted cubes of butternut squash. Next, we had the endive and arugula salad with Covadongo blue cheese and orange. We tried the White Bait because I loved the name. It looked like French fries and tasted like fried calamari so I asked for marinara. Nope! We topped off our palates with a trio of cheeses: mahon curado, delice de bourogne, and capriole obannon (wrapped in a bourbon leaf)! Heaven (on Seven)! Although the tag line is cheese, swine and wine, we didn’t try the pig ears or other pork bi-products! We didn’t want to make a purple hog of ourselves!

Pre or Post Show, learn more about playwright Noel Coward by seeing Writers Theatre’s smash hit Oh Coward!

Photographs by Michael Brosilow


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