Friday, May 16, 2014

Private Lives—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR



“Let’s Misbehave”

This classical comedy of manners by Noel Coward is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Venetian Theater in Hillsboro at 253 E. Main St. through May 25th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org

Noel Coward is a very unique playwright.  He not only wrote about himself, but his times as well.  And his comedies were simply dramas turned upside-down.  It is said that comedy and tragedy are really the on the same coin, just different sides of it.  Tis only too true with this play.  A rather good film about this era of 80 some years ago is Star!, with Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence and Daniel Massey as Coward.

It is about infidelity, alcoholism, status, marriage, love, lust, jealousy, and quarreling.  And, oh, yes, did I mention, it’s a comedy.  It seems that Elyot (Adam Syron) and Sybil (Arianne Jacques) are newlyweds and are on their honeymoon.  Coincidently, Amanda (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit) and Victor (Gary Strong) are honeymooning right next door to their suite with an adjoining patio.  Nothing too strange about this, perhaps, except that Amanda and Elyot used to be married to each other a few years back.

Needless to say, they soon discover this uncomfortable arrangement and begin to nag at each other all over again.  Most of the tirades between these two are about who they’ve slept with, other than their respective mates.  But the history between these two is strong and they recall the good times, too.  It is not long before they rekindle their lust…er, love for each other and leave their own bride/groom on this nuptial night and escape to greener pastures to live in sin.

It seems only fair, of course, that Victor and Sybil would cry on each other’s shoulders and, ultimately, make a similar arrangement.  Meanwhile, back at the proverbial ranch, the cooing love birds are beginning to bicker again and their Eden is becoming more of a stagnant wasteland, leaving it to their mouthy, French maid (Theresa Park) to mop up after them.  And there is still the pesky thing of marriage contracts to clear up.  So, who comes a calling, but Victor and Sybil, and the round robin continues.

I won’t give away the outcome, in part, because there really isn’t any.  Coward simply stops the action with the inference that this kind of behavior will continue on both fronts.  “A plotless play for purposeless people” as the critic John Lahr wrote.  And, possibly, a reflection of the idle, empty rich of this era.  Not too far removed from Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and his ilk.  Sad, sad, sad, indeed.

The set (Megan Wilkerson) is quite eclectic and busy, possibly reflecting the jumbled minds of our inhabitants of this bizarre world.  The music played from this era also epitomized the devil-may-care attitude of this age.  And the costumes (Melissa Heller) were quite eccentric and matched the characters flamboyant actions and attitudes.  Palmer has, again, offered a view of a by-gone era, subtly suggesting, perhaps, that the comparisons between it and our so-called modern age, are not too far apart.  And his uses of pauses, as well as stage business, suggests the vapidity of their lives.  Well conceived.

Park, as the French maid, spoke only in French, but her expressive use of body language gave no need for any translation and was very effective.  Both the other ladies, Kelly-Pettit and Jacques, similar in appearance, possibly deliberately, were quite adept in their movements, clipped speech, and broad expanse of character.

Nicely presented.  And Strong, as the rather blustery, babbling, buffoon was a stark contrast to the others’ portrayals.  Very funny and, at the same time, rather sad, sort of like the silent comedian of their time, Fatty Arbuckle.

But the top prize, in my book, goes to Syron, aping his vision of how possibly Coward would have played the role.  His flighty gestures and movements suggest a bird ready to take off at any time.  His high, annoying voice was perfect, as was his fly-off-the-handle attitude at anything that didn’t strike his fancy or wasn’t on par with his view of the world.  You felt, even if things were going smoothly, he’d find some way to muck up the works just for a little excitement.  An exceptional performance!

I also must commend the Venetian Bistro in the same building www.venetiantheatre.com   Some friends of mine and I went there for the Happy Hour before the show and found the prices to be very affordable (Between $3-$5, for most drink and food) and quite a varied selection and quite good.  I would recommend going a little early for the show and having a meal and/or drink beforehand.

I would recommend this show.  If you do go to the play (and/or bistro), please tell them Dennis sent you.   

For another perspective on this play, check out Greg’s blog at: