Theater review: Private Lives

Photo courtesy of Montford Park Players

Once upon a time, before the fast-paced world of entertainment we’re accustomed to, there was Noël Coward. His plays were the height of upper crust British humor, depicting high society and often sinking to the lowest depths of humanity (thereby mocking the stereotype). Coward’s style and wit became the forbear of early cinema and the classic romantic comedy formula. In many ways, much of his style set a tone for sitcoms like “I Love Lucy.”

The long-running Montford Park Players bring Coward’s best-known work, Private Lives, to the Masonic Temple with every withering glance and drop of martini-dry wit.

Elyot Chase is the ultimate cad. He’s flippant and self-confident, as well as a bit foppish. Travis Lowe brings this character — a reflection of Coward himself — to life with perfect timing and eye-rolling delight. Chase is on his honeymoon with second wife Sybil when he encounters his first wife, Amanda, on the next-door balcony. Amanda is also on her honeymoon with Victor. Sparks fly as their old feelings bubble to the surface. They are too alike to get along for more than a few minutes without a quarrel, but they fall back in love almost on sight.

Christy Montesdeoca gives an amazing turn as the sharp-tongued Amanda, proving that she is every bit the equal to Lowe’s Elyot. Her performance is razor sharp. In the supporting roles of the new spouses who are left to deal with the impulsive passions of Amanda and Elyot, Scott Keel‘s Victor is uptight upper crust at its best, while Trinity Smith’s Sybil is a wonderfully wailing waif of despair. She practically steals scenes, throwing herself to the floor several times. Emily Tucker has a small role as Louise, a French Maid, who was perhaps a bit too understated in her delivery of her French lines.

Under the direction of Jeff Catanese, the show has a deliberate pace, honoring the era in which the play is set and written. It is a pleasant surprise for the audience to be drawn into a bygone era and style, with its dialogue and delivery as well as the intentional pauses that are filled with humorous glances and subtext.

Kayren McKnight‘s costumes help to paint a perfect portrait of the 1930s Europe, and Carol Saich‘s dialect coaching gives the show a very formal British feel. Even the historic Masonic Temple venue adds to the ambiance and elegance of the period. Montford has found a great off-season home in the temple, a long-hidden gem of a venue in downtown Asheville.

Private Lives continues through Sunday, March 29, with performances Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, at 2:30 p.m. $15

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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