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I found it interesting that someone would try to stage a comedy like Private Lives at the Huntington Theater. In my mind, it’d be more fitting to play one of Coward’s comedies at a more intimate venue like the Lyric where one can see the nuances in the actors’ faces. Sure enough, Private Lives proved itself to be vibrant and absorbing fun that sucks in the audience in a way most productions only try to. After the curtain comes up, one of the show’s primary stars of the show is greeted with applause: Allen Moyer. This is by no means a slight against the actors (whose fantastic performances I’ll get to in a moment) but these sets were incredible; the opening exterior looks like the entire three-story front of a gorgeous hotel was torn off and placed in the Huntington. The design is bright and oozing with romance. I admit it, I couldn’t help but think, “Okay, but how is an amazing set going to make this show funnier?” Sure enough, the talented cast made these giant sets their playgrounds.
It’s hard to keep a comedy that’s more than eighty years old fresh without leaning too much on the crutch that is nostalgia, but the cast was more than up for the challenge. Autumn Hurlbert (Sibyl) immediately sets the tone with a pitch perfect peppy and proper-to-the-point-of-mania portrayal of Sibyl, making you instantly love and hope terrible things happen to her. Jeremy Webb plays Victor with a kind of grinning mannerism and look that reminds one of Tim Curry. James Waterson comes into his own as Elyot over the course of the play, defining his character best once paired with his former lover Amanda (Bianca Amato); you’ll never be able to take your eyes off them. The two of them have such explosive chemistry, great comedic timing, and are just plain adorable when they are fawning or fighting each other. There’s even a cameo role by Boston theater staple Paula Plum, who, while at no point is the focus of the action, still adds a wonderful element of bewilderment to the crazed finale.
The whole show posses an excellent degree of verisimilitude. Phillip Rosenberg’s lighting is natural and I did believe that is was daytime on stage despite it being well past ten at night. The costumes are the icing on the cake, gorgeous and vibrant without being distracting. At no point does the play feel dated or whimsy as Maria Aitken’s direction keeps thing at a constant pace of rapid-fire wit, humor, and slapstick (with a little dash of magic). The only real weakness is some slight lagging in the middle of the third act, but all things said for a two hour long show it feels like no time has passed at all. If you are looking for a wicked good time, this production of Private Lives is funny, fulfilling, and demonstration of brilliant and entrancing theater. Private Lives, expertly directed by Maria Aitken, will be playing at the Huntington Theater until June 24th!