Bianca Amato and James Waterston in Noël Coward’s Private Lives.(Photo: Paul Marotta)
BOSTON — When it comes to relationships, there is the veneer and then there’s the truth about how horribly we comport ourselves behind closed doors. It’s what Noël Coward mined brilliantly in his 1930 comedy, Private Lives, now receiving equally brilliant staging by the Huntington Theatre Company through June 24th. Of course in true Coward fashion, he gives us the awful truth.
The comedy opens with divorced couple Sibyl (Autumn Hurlbert) and Elyot (James Waterston) honeymooning in France with their new spouses—unaware they’re vacationing at the same hotel and in adjacent rooms. The discovery made, they rekindle and their hearts of “jagged sophistication” are reunited as their less-significant others Amanda (Bianca Amato) and Victor (Jeremy Webb) are left adrift at the seaside hotel.
What follows is a tempestuous marital triage in Sibyl’s Parisian flat. Nothing is safe here—not emotions, trust or fragile sculptures as Sibyl redecorates Charlie Sheen style. It’s screwball comedy, but what’s resonant here is Coward’s ability to float us light, frothy fare and still richly plumb the depths of relationships—truly capturing what propels, plagues and lifts us when we’re with the one we love…or love to hate.
The Huntington production is lush and spirited. Gorgeous sets and costumes and a remarkable cast led by the divinely paired Hurlbert and Waterston. (Waterston’s dutiful father, Sam, who’ll be seen this summer in HBO’s The Newsroom, was in attendance on Opening Night). And this is all the work of one supremely talented director, Maria Aitken, who herself holds the record for starring in the most West End Coward productions. She’s used that experience to give us a Private Lives with delicious élan.