Deauville, 1930’s. The fine Private Lives revival directed by Richard Eyre at the Music Box Theater opens on a posh hotel terrace. The view must be amazing, you imagine as two couples on honeymoon in adjoining suites gaze over the audience to a yacht in the harbor. On the right, Elyot answers one jealous question after another about his first wife Amanda. His pretty blond new wife may sense Amanda’s shadowy presence. On the left, another newly wed man echoes the insecurities to his wife wrapped audaciously in a towel. Of course, the audience gets the conceit from the start; these in fact are one another’s exes, in the flesh! Yet the beauty of Private Lives is Noel Coward’s language, the hilarious barbs and banter, foreplay to out and out brawl. You cannot resist the unexpected laugh when Elyot, says, “Don’t quibble, Sybil.”
As Amanda, 55 year old Cattrall is sexy in that towel when we first glimpse her on the Deauville terrace, and elegant in evening gown. In Act II, she’s in silk negligee, and later a smart suit. As she and Elyot (Paul Gross, a Canadian actor who has the requisite handsome charm) go at it, from bed to couch, they fall into a pattern best understood as their mode of marriage. This couple may need a break once in awhile, and yet Elyot and Amanda can be so fully attuned, as when a familiar knowing Samantha smirk crosses Amanda’s mouth. The left behind partners, Victor (Simon Paisley Day) and Sybil (Anna Madeley), follow to Amanda’s Paris apartment to retrieve their spouses, and soon end up on a chaise, he smacking her rump.
Noel Coward understood marriage, the heterosexual sort; these couples cannot keep their hands (or fists) off each other. Louise, the maid (Caroline Lena Olsson), enters, speaking only French. At a recent matinee, a woman in the orchestra shouted out to the man seated by her side, do you understand her? Ca ne fait rien. The maid is important in whatever language because she represents all of us surveying the destructive fun of these utterly mad sophisticates.