REVIEW: “Private Parts” — (IVRT) Inland Valley Repertory Theatre

"Take Two Parts Love, One Part Hate, Shake Tenderly for a Spirited Coward Cocktail"


In IVRT’s scintillating revisitation of Noël Coward's best-known work, the erotic bloom is restored to one of the funniest comedies of the 20th century.


The play is ''Private Lives,'' and the subject theme — although you may have forgotten about this part — is sex. Or as Amanda describes it, ''our chemical what d'you call 'ems.''

Although long dismissed as a stylish arrangement of smart surfaces, the implicit carnality in ''Private Lives'' stirred shivers among the censors when it was presented for vetting in 1930. The playwright himself simply dismissed it as ''the lightest of light comedies.''


Directed by Cate Caplin, the Executive Producer is Frank Minano. IVRT Executive Director is Donna Marie Minano. Designed, Filmed and Edited by Spencer Weitzel, the show features the talents of real-life couples, Tiffany Berg McMahon as Amanda Prynne, Patrick John McMahon as Elyot Chase, Tracy Lay as Sibyl Chase and Ken Lay as Victor Prynne. Streaming performances are scheduled for March 16-17, 2021 at 7PM.


“I’ve always loved Noel Coward’s plays,” says Director Caplin, “and, in particular ‘Private Lives’— some consider it to be one of the best plays of the 20th Century. Coward is known for his gift for comedy and language, his wit and style, his celebration of devilishly naughty characters, their often conniving, self absorbed and impulsive behavior when passion selfishly drives them to collide recklessly but somehow joyfully in the world of his stories.”


There’s talk of chemistry in “Private Lives,” and no element is more essential to the success of Coward’s sparkling romantic comedy than the chemistry between Amanda and Elyot, who fall awkwardly in love again five years after their divorce while honeymooning with their respective new spouses. And even before they share a minute of stage time, Mr. and Ms. McMahan make it clear this reckless couple is fated to continue making love and war, whether they like it or not.


Tiffany Berg McMahan looks sensational, and reconfirms her considerable talent, resembling a red-headed panther right out of a golden age high society social circle in her soigné glamour-wear. Her Amanda has emotional nuance, vulnerability and odd, unexpectedly humanizing glimmers of a common touch beneath the cultivated veneer of exquisite boredom and petulance. But, in sort of a great Carole Lombard tradition (who was remembered for her zany comedies), she also manages to combine poise with blithe physical humor.


Shaping his clipped tones, deadpan drollery and chiseled, matinee-idol looks into a Cary Grant-like mold, Patrick John McMahan is every bit Tiffany’s equal, wearing his high dollar suits, tuxedo and silk lounging pajamas with authority and disarming ease. Proudly superficial, his Elyot clings to frivolity even when inconvenient drama and personal responsibility rear their ugly heads.


Chief vehicles for those intrusions are Sybil (Tracy Lay) and Victor (Ken Lay), Elyot and Amanda’s mismatched new spouses. Elyot has just married Sybil, a sweet, stubborn little grande matron in the making; Amanda is now partnered with the tweedy, gangly and virile Victor. First encountered on neighboring terraces of a seaside hotel in Deauville, they follow their capricious partners to Amanda’s Parisian apartment, determined to take the fizz out of the former married couple’s champagne.


Coward applies a symmetry that might be merely schematic with a less clever writer. His genius is apparent in the perfect balance between Elyot and Amanda on one hand, and Sybil and Victor on the other. If the divorced protagonists are irresistible tormenters, acknowledging regrettable character flaws even as they wreak emotional havoc, their wronged new spouses are a priggish pair clearly meant for each other. More succinctly, Elyot and Amanda are creatures of chance, gambling on life and love, while Sybil and Victor are starchy pragmatists who would only be miserable had the new marriages endured.


The Lays perform their hapless foil duties admirably and with an agreeable light touch. Sybil is a chirpy, old-fashioned girl, and Victor a crusty windbag, both firmly holding their own comic ground. One wishes they were allowed to be a tad sexier, though. As it is, it's only their drolly drawn bourgeois solidity that justifies their spousal appeal to the wayward Amanda and Elyot.


Even if the play’s banter-bicker-and-repeat setting becomes a tad repetitive as we wait for the inevitable all-out brawl, Amanda and Elyot still remain scintillating company. And you never question they belong together. As he will say later, none too happily, ''We're in love all right.''


Neither does the production scant on the expected cosmopolitan attributes. Even as the epigrams crackle or scathe, even while the comic pauses are as precise as a Groucho punch line, and even when knockabout farce is demanded, the performers deliver it like a team of acrobatic clowns outfitted by Rodeo Drive.


Despite some cooing and cuddling, the conversation doesn't always flow easily for either set of honeymooners. The sardonic playfulness that is the first language of both Amanda and Elyot might as well be Albanian to Victor and Sibyl. Nor can the younger newlyweds begin to appreciate Amanda and Elyot's shared conviction that flippancy is a necessity because life is far too serious to be taken seriously.

The pair conveys this stinging self-consciousness beautifully. There are tasty hints of feminine vanity in him and masculine belligerence in her that make them seem all the better matched. They seem to exude a natural two-sided familiarity that chafes even as it stimulates. As a consequence, the hair-trigger reversals between adulation and irritation in all three acts never seem forced or arbitrary, and in turn the glitter of ''Private Lives'' seems to shine all the more bewitchingly.


Tickets are $27 and can be purchased by phone Monday through Thursday from 10AM to 1PM at (909)859-4878 or online 24/7 at www.ivrt.org


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

www.theshowreport.org