Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > Shana Wride hits her stride in ‘Private Lives’

Shana Wride hits her stride in ‘Private Lives’

 

Jessica John, Manny Fernandes, Shana Wride and Sean Murray photo by Daren Scott

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO— Cygnet Theatre in Old Town has done it again. After a successful run of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd they are off and running with Noel Coward’s Comedy of Manners, Private Lives. What makes this madcap comedy so amazingly engaging is the terrific five (Annie Hinton comes in as the maid Louise in the third act) person cast starring artistic director Sean Murray (with an assist by Francis Gercke), Shana Wride, Jessica John and Manny Fernandes.

Wride, who so deservedly won a Brava on opening night and is making her Cygnet debut, has been on leave from San Diego stages for too many years. I so remember her in productions, before she took her hiatus, in  Suds, Women Who Steal and Six Women With Brain Death just to name a few.

She is now back in full swing catching her stride being the sharp, witty, strong willed, outrageously honest, glamorously coiffed  (thanks to Shirley Pierson’s gorgeous and fitting period pieces) and self assured Amanda Prynne in Coward’s delightful (the play opened to critical success in 1930) Private Lives.

In Coward’s sit-com, he pits two very conceited, self centered, know it all’s; to hell with convention high brows against each other in what turns out to be the perfect comedy both physically and mentally for this theatre company.

Had Amanda and her ex, Elyot Chase (Murray), thought at all about their past love/hate relationship when their paths caught up with them again one fateful evening they might not have wanted to try for a second go around. In fact both were now unhappily married to new spouses who are the complete opposites of the old and still they have a cynical edge about their marital status.

As Coward would have it, when the two conveniently (Well?) meet up again five years after their divorce (to their dismay, horror and excitement) sparks begin to fly as they find themselves sharing a terrace at a very posh seaside resort in the South of France overlooking the harbor (Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design). We learn right off the bat with a great intro from each of the characters why they are there, what they are about and last but not least, that the new younger spouses, Sibyl (Jessica John) and Victor (Manny Fernandes) are no matches for the experienced world travelers.

What happens next, sets up the bizarre follies that follow and that’s the fun of Private Lives. Like the little engines that could Amanda and Elyot, realizing the errors of their ways (well at least one of them) on that fateful evening, decide that they in fact don’t want to be married to their ‘new spouses’ any more or rather, still. (A., “In love all over again, are we”? E., “No…We’re not all over in love again, and you know it”.)

As fast as a sip from a cocktail glass and a renewed embrace, off they run to Amanda’s apartment in Paris leaving the clueless, bright eyed/ bushy tailed Sibyl and straight as an arrow Victor in the lurch, but remembering to send them a ‘nice’ note to let them know where they can be found. It’s all so wonderfully scrumptious!

Coward wrote the play after he got sick with influenza while on an Asian tour. Convalescing in Shanghai, he spent two weeks ‘sketching out Private Lives three acts’ and actually finishing the project in four days. When he returned to London and began directing the production, he cast himself in as Elyot Chase. Gertrude Lawrence played Amanda and Lawrence Olivier was Victor.

The first Broadway production opened at The Times Square Theatre in 1931 with Coward, Lawrence and Olivier reprising their roles. What a spectacle that would have been to see.

Not to be outdone though, Murray and his excellent cast have another tongue wagging success on their hands as this stylish show with no holds barred action plows through convention, conviction almost to slapstick action with precise planning. Disregarding conventional wisdom, Coward’s characters Amanda and Elyot live their lives as they please throwing caution to the wind defying the times, the pretentiousness of modern manners and showing the hypocrisy of the upper classes ‘outside world’.  Their ‘inside world’ is the stuff of their private lives and it is fraught with danger and excitement.

The morning after they flee the hotel they are as lovebirds in Amanda’s apartment. It is this setting, beautifully decorated with every accoutrement you might find in an upper crust villa (Andrew Huff with appointments by Bonnie L. Durban with perfect lighting accents by Eric Lotze) complete with two chaise lounges, couch, piano, view of the Eiffel Tower and enough pillows to have a great pillow fight and then some, the two seem to have found love again.

But soon after playing nice to each other the accusations, cutting barbs, hurtful banter, a slug or two of brandy and nasty arguing (did I say arguing?) and almost physically hurting one another they find a middle ground to cut it off by shouting “sollokcs” a combination of the words Solomon Isaacs. However, their on again/off again bickering, reminiscing, bickering and cuddling goes on until the apartment is in ruins (from their fighting) and Sibyl and Victor show up to claim their prizes.

What makes this challenging setup so right for Cygnet’s cast is the outstanding cast itself. Murray plays Elyot Chase with an assurance reserved for someone who knows just what he’s doing and both he and Elyot fit the bill. I can’t say enough about Wride except she’s made for the part. Her nonchalant aloofness and absolute understatements, exquisite upper crust behavior and self-confidence put her on a par with Murray’s Elyot, making her his perfect opposition candidate. Their timing is superb making every move a dance step without looking choreographed (Colleen Kollar Smith) and every sharp-tongued rebuff, natural to a tee.

Jessica John’s Sibyl, the ‘new Mrs. Chase’ is pert, clueless, oh! so feminine and shallow. She looks like a kewpie doll all dressed up with no place to go or anyone to go with. Off she does go, though with the jilted Victor to find what the HAY is going on. She is another perfect match as Amanda’s opposite.

Fernandes for his part is strong willed with a no prisoners taken attitude. His cold and stiff-necked, up-tight posture is in sharp contrast to Murray’s relaxed and world experienced Elyot.  Fernandes, who struggled with his accent in the first act finds his compass later on and does a great job as Amanda’s protector and do -gooder. All four paint a portrait worth talking about but not particularly worth knowing.

A must see, if you love good theatre.

See you at the theatre.
Dates: May 27th –July 3rd
Organization: Cygnet Theatre Company
Phone: 619-337-1526
Production Type: Comedy of Manners
Where: 4040 Twiggs St. San Diego, California, 92110
Ticket Prices: $17.00-$42.00
Web: cygnettheatre.com
Venue: Old Town Theatre

 *
Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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