"Private Lives"

Noel Coward

Hillsboro Artists' Regional Theatre (HART)
Feb-March, 2009

 

Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne on truce

Photo by Margie Young

 

Early 2009 brought my first lead (or shared lead) role since "Three Years." The fast, witty dialogue of Noel Coward offered a welcome change from several years of mostly Shakespeare and the Greeks. The show also brought the acquaintance of Carrie Boatwright, a gifted and intelligent actress whose focus and energy were apparent to me within seconds of starting to read opposite her at the audition.

Another change was the tiny cast: just two couples (Lindsey McLean and Tristan Richmond played the other pair), plus a couple of brief appearances by a French maid (Margie Young) in the third and final act.

I should note that all of the photos on this page were taken during rehearsals --well before opening -- so the set, hairstyles, and costumes do not look the way they did in the eventual show. My grey got dyed away into a dark brown that was nearly black; the women received elaborate 30s hair styles with lots of curls; and some of the women's costumes changed several times over the course of the run.

A posed photograph with similarly incomplete set and improper costumes that nonetheless includes the entire cast appeared in a Hillsboro Argus news story about the production.

Aside from the inherent challenges in the script (Elyot and Amanda hold the stage alone together for the entire second act, climaxing in a slapping, wrestling, and shoving match that includes the smashing of a vinyl recording disc over Elyot's head), we had the viruses of the season with which to contend. Lindsey was diagnosed with walking pneumonia three days before opening (necessitating various medications and the decision to skip the three kisses between my character and hers at the top of the show for the first two weekends of shows), and each of the rest of us came down with colds later in the run. Mine hit just in time for closing weekend.

I also had to light seven cigarettes and puff on five of them during each performance. My theory is that the playwright, who originated my role, knew he couldn't go two hours without a smoke, so he wrote several into the script.

We used herbal cigarettes with the dubious brand name of "Ecstacy" (one of the ingredients was catnip, though my cat at home never seemed to notice). It turned out that inhaling them was less of a problem for me than the basic mechanics of taking them out of a silver cigarette case and lighting them with wooden matches. During rehearsals I snapped cigarettes, broke matches, dropped the cigarettes or case on the floor, failed to light one or did not completely stub it out so that it continued to give off smoke as the scene progressed. My director, a former smoker, was in hysterics with laughter watching my struggles. But by the time of the run I think I managed a reasonable facsimile of a practiced smoker.

Fight choreographer Kendall Wells, who had taught me to stab Caesar the previous summer, came in to show Carrie and me how to slap each other with suitable sound effects, place her for a shove into the drinks trolley so it toppled with an impressive crash, and tumble onto and roll off of the sofa onto the floor, pound my head on the floor, etc. It seemed to take forever to design, but in performance it whizzed by in a flash. The only injury I suffered were a couple of cuts on my forehead from smashed LPs.

 

 

I enjoyed playing Elyot immensely. He's a witty, amoral scamp, and one friend who saw the play said I "was born to play this role." Another wrote:

... the costumes and makeup (so often a weakness) were fine, and the acting was great. As an Englishman, I tend to have quite an ear for American attempts at the accent, and you -- and the entire cast -- did a great job. I could get picky with one or two words from every one of you, but I really mean ONE OR TWO WORDS! As to your own role: I've seen you two or three times now and this was by far your most confident and expressive performance, for my money. You really seemed to own the part, and I found you very credible. Amanda was also very powerful.

 

 

 

WHAT THEY SAID

"The Hillsboro company, commonly known as HART, may lack fancy set decorations on its bare-bones stage and it may be in need of a decent sound system for its production of 'Lives,' but director Paula Richmond has assembled a skilled cast for the most part -- actors who appear to relish the parallel scenes and repeated lines that make Coward's dialog so brilliant. The only uneven performance is from David Loftus as the sybaritic Elyot, who rolled his eyes a little too often, and seemed to approach the role with a modicum of stiffness, until he finally relaxed in the last act.

"Carrie Boatwright, her angular cheekbones remindful of a young Katharine Hepburn, finds all the right rhythms and intonations for Amanda in her effervescent performance of a woman who flaunts convention, but has no illusions about her own errant behavior. What lies beneath Amanda's veneer of respectability is a tigress greedy for life, and Boatwright lets the beast out without diminishing any of her character's natural elegance. Lindsey McLean as Elyot's young bride Sybil is deliciously shrill and self-righteous, a proper Englishwoman to the core, just as Amanda's new husband Victor, concisely sketched by Tristan Richmond, symbolizes the proper English male, exuding rugged grandeur and no sense of humor. And -- hooray! -- everyone has a decent British accent (except the French maid, of course, played by Margie Young).." -- Holly Johnson, Oregonian, 3/1/2009

 

 

 

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