AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Noel Coward
Directed by Jeanie Forte
Presented by Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA / (650) 329-0891

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Noel Coward wrote "Private Lives" as a vehicle for himself and longtime friend Gertrude Lawrence. It premiered in London in 1930, went on to Broadway the next year and has maintained its popularity ever since. It's a witty, sophisticated comedy about Amanda (Elizabeth Coy) and Elyot (Bill Olson), who have been divorced from each other for five years after a tempestuous marriage. As the play opens, both have just been married to others, he to the naive, sniveling Sibyl (Kristen K. Lo) and she to the stuffy Victor (Kris Jacobs). As fate would have it, both couples have just arrived in adjoining hotel rooms to begin their honeymoons in France.

Elyot and Amanda see each other on their adjoining balconies, rekindle their romance and run off to Amanda's flat in Paris. Although quite in love, they still can't stop bickering, but the arrival of Sibyl and Victor seals their relationship. The plot isn't terribly complicated, but the challenge in "Private Lives" is to maintain the right pace and keep the repartee as witty and sparkling as one might imagine from Coward and Lawrence. Director Jeanie Forte and her Palo Alto Players cast make a valiant effort, often succeeding or coming close, but sometimes the pacing lags.

The Art Deco set by Kuo-Hao Lo, with lighting by Chris Karabats, is handsome. The costumes by Mary Cravens are generally suited to the characters but aren't tailored well enough for them. The sound is by Peter Van Scherpe.

Even though the production isn't quite as sharp as one might wish, it's still enjoyable and seemed to please the Sunday matinee audience. Pleasing the audience is surely the key to this community theater group's longevity, for "Private Lives" marks the conclusion of Palo Alto Players' 75th season. Very few companies at any level can boast of such staying power.

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