Noel Coward's 'Private Lives' in Quogue

George Loizides, Rebecca Edana, Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, and Matthew Conlon rehearsing a scene from "Private Lives" in Quogue last week. Carlene DeScalo

In “Private Lives,” as in many of his plays, Noel Coward mines complex, volatile relationships among the shallow and narcissistic for humor, pathos, and, swirling amid the surface effervescence, trenchant observations about love. The Hampton Theatre Company will open a two-and-a-half-week run of the 1930 comedy, written in three days while Coward was convalescing from influenza during travels abroad, next Thursday at the Quogue Community Hall.

“Private Lives” opens at a hotel in Deauville, France, where Elyot and Sybil are honeymooning. Unbeknownst to Elyot, Amanda, his former wife, is in the adjoining suite with her new husband, Victor. When they discover the bizarre coincidence, both Elyot and Amanda ask their new spouses to leave the hotel with them, but both refuse and storm off to dine alone, leaving Elyot and Amanda to discover they are still drawn to each other.

Act II finds Elyot and Amanda at her flat in Paris, where their passion is soon overtaken by increasingly violent arguing that escalates to physical violence. “There is very real love there,” said Andrew Botsford, who plays Elyot, “but there is so much self-love that the question is whether they can possibly really connect.”

Mr. Botsford is also one of four members of the company’s artistic committee, which selects each season’s plays with an eye toward a balance of comedy and drama and new plays and classic works. “When we get to the second and third act,” he said, “certain ideas about couples and how men and women should interact with each other resurface. There’s real care in the writing, it’s really well constructed and really well thought out, in ways that if you look at it as a champagne cocktail of a comedy, you miss that.”

The play’s first production in 1930 in London starred Coward in the role of Elyot, with his longtime co-star, Gertrude Lawrence, as Amanda and a young Laurence Olivier as Victor. While the now-familiar theatrical honors did not exist then, revivals of the play have earned Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and Olivier Awards.

A number of Coward’s plays included marital infidelity and sexual shenanigans, and during rehearsals of “Private Lives” the Lord Chamberlain labeled the second act love scene too risque. Coward pleaded his case by acting out the scene himself and managed to avoid censorship.

In today’s #MeToo climate, another aspect of the play — the physical violence between Elyot and Amanda — seems, at best, anachronistic. “We were wincing when we did the read through, because Elyot hits Amanda and she hits him back,” said Mr. Botsford. 

“In the third act, Amanda says, ‘A man should never strike a woman,’ and Elyot says, ‘Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.’ How can you say this in 2019? But in the context of the play, it’s perfectly acceptable.”

In a review of a 2015 revival, Anita Gates of The New York Times cited as a sign of Coward’s theatrical genius that he could “write a story heavy on spousal abuse that still plays, without offense, 85 years later.” To Amanda’s credit, she responds to the “gong” comment with a knee to Elyot’s groin and a broken record over his head.

The cast of the Hampton Theatre Company production features, in addition to Mr. Botsford, Rosemary Cline as Amanda, Matthew Conlon as Victor, Rebecca Edana as Sybil, and Diana Marbury as the maid in Amanda’s Paris flat. Mr. Botsford and Ms. Kline have been acting together in different contexts ever since the company began 34 years ago. “This is cast perfectly for us,” he said. “Our experience acting together adds layers of stuff that are perfect for the play.”

George Loizides directs. Set design is by Sean Marbury, lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski, sound by Seamus Naughton, and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.

Performances will take place Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2:30, with an additional matinee set for June 8. Tickets are $30, $25 for senior citizens (except Saturday evenings), $20 for those under 35, and $10 for students.

In “Private Lives,” as in many of his plays, Noel Coward mines complex, volatile relationships among the shallow and narcissistic for humor, pathos, and, swirling amid the surface effervescence, trenchant observations about love. The Hampton Theatre Company will open a two-and-a-half-week run of the 1930 comedy, written in three days while Coward was convalescing from influenza during travels abroad, next Thursday at the Quogue Community Hall.

“Private Lives” opens at a hotel in Deauville, France, where Elyot and Sybil are honeymooning. Unbeknownst to Elyot, Amanda, his former wife, is in the adjoining suite with her new husband, Victor. When they discover the bizarre coincidence, both Elyot and Amanda ask their new spouses to leave the hotel with them, but both refuse and storm off to dine alone, leaving Elyot and Amanda to discover they are still drawn to each other.

Act II finds Elyot and Amanda at her flat in Paris, where their passion is soon overtaken by increasingly violent arguing that escalates to physical violence. “There is very real love there,” said Andrew Botsford, who plays Elyot, “but there is so much self-love that the question is whether they can possibly really connect.”

Mr. Botsford is also one of four members of the company’s artistic committee, which selects each season’s plays with an eye toward a balance of comedy and drama and new plays and classic works. “When we get to the second and third act,” he said, “certain ideas about couples and how men and women should interact with each other resurface. There’s real care in the writing, it’s really well constructed and really well thought out, in ways that if you look at it as a champagne cocktail of a comedy, you miss that.”

The play’s first production in 1930 in London starred Coward in the role of Elyot, with his longtime co-star, Gertrude Lawrence, as Amanda and a young Laurence Olivier as Victor. While the now-familiar theatrical honors did not exist then, revivals of the play have earned Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and Olivier Awards.

A number of Coward’s plays included marital infidelity and sexual shenanigans, and during rehearsals of “Private Lives” the Lord Chamberlain labeled the second act love scene too risque. Coward pleaded his case by acting out the scene himself and managed to avoid censorship.

In today’s #MeToo climate, another aspect of the play — the physical violence between Elyot and Amanda — seems, at best, anachronistic. “We were wincing when we did the read through, because Elyot hits Amanda and she hits him back,” said Mr. Botsford. 

“In the third act, Amanda says, ‘A man should never strike a woman,’ and Elyot says, ‘Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.’ How can you say this in 2019? But in the context of the play, it’s perfectly acceptable.”

In a review of a 2015 revival, Anita Gates of The New York Times cited as a sign of Coward’s theatrical genius that he could “write a story heavy on spousal abuse that still plays, without offense, 85 years later.” To Amanda’s credit, she responds to the “gong” comment with a knee to Elyot’s groin and a broken record over his head.

The cast of the Hampton Theatre Company production features, in addition to Mr. Botsford, Rosemary Cline as Amanda, Matthew Conlon as Victor, Rebecca Edana as Sybil, and Diana Marbury as the maid in Amanda’s Paris flat. Mr. Botsford and Ms. Kline have been acting together in different contexts ever since the company began 34 years ago. “This is cast perfectly for us,” he said. “Our experience acting together adds layers of stuff that are perfect for the play.”

George Loizides directs. Set design is by Sean Marbury, lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski, sound by Seamus Naughton, and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.

Performances will take place Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2:30, with an additional matinee set for June 8. Tickets are $30, $25 for senior citizens (except Saturday evenings), $20 for those under 35, and $10 for students.