“Private Lives” – Souhtwest Shakespeare Company and Elaine Paige Concert – Mesa Arts Center

This review aired on KBAQ March 4, 2013


Southwest Shakespeare Company, Farnsworth Studio Theater, Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ

“Private Lives” is a sprightly Noel Coward farce that looks at stuffy British morals in the 1930s and laughs at the silly snobbery that marks Coward’s affluent characters’ otherwise uneventful lives.  Coward’s commentary is always bright, funny, and, of course, sublimely sophisticated.

Southwest Shakespeare Company is reviving the play in a decent production staged by Don Bluth that too infrequently captures the necessary British nose-in-the-air snootiness that signals the play’s amusing arrogance.  The production often seems riddled with American comic antics even though the lead actors feign hit-and-miss British accents and affect the suave superiority Anglophiles personify.  When the British snobbery is believable, the production soars.  In fairness, many American actors have tackled “Private Lives” because of its sophistication but have failed miserably.

In the story, two newly married couples are honeymooning at the same French hotel.  Eloyt with his second wife Sibyl are in adjoining rooms next to Amanda and her second husband Victor.  Shouldn’t be a problem except that Sibyl and Victor had been married before as were Eloyt and Amanda.  When the couples meet, mayhem ensues.  Amanda and Elyot realize they still love each other.  One thing leads to another as the four reconnect.  As Amanda and Elyot leave, Sibyl and Victor fight.

Bluth’s staging keeps the lyrical exchanges quick and bright as they should be so it is the often faltering British crispiness that mars the production.  Best at maintaining the brittle British mannerisms are Spencer Dooley’s Eloyt and Justine Hartley’s Amanda.  Less successful is Beau Heckman’s Victor but most American is Allison Sell’s weak Sibyl.  The actors have the mandatory comic pacing but all struggle to maintain crisp British decorum.

“Private Lives” earns three stars out of five and continues at the Mesa Arts Center through March 23.

Grade: C

One needs to mention an unfortunate parking situation at the Mesa Arts Center.  At Elaine Paige’s Tuesday Mesa Arts Center concert, the rear parking lot was free.  The same lot was $5 for “Private Lives.”  A bizarre City of Mesa policy too convoluted to explain, is the justification.  The Center and Mesa should have a consistent parking policy in this handy lot and not a changing policy based on factors unknown to audiences.

Piper Repertory Theater, Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ

British musical theater veteran Elaine Paige began her first American concert tour at the Mesa Arts Center last week.  To say it was embarrassing is understatement.  Not only was her opening number badly orchestrated, Paige got lost and was off tempo.  Things improved but at 64 Paige can no longer sing songs from shows she did years ago.  She needs a new pianist and a director to make her show effective.  After Mesa, she went to San Francisco where the same show she did here would be laughed off stage.