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The gift of gab

Civic Theatre stages Noel Coward’s Private Lives

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-09-10


Noel Coward wrote a lot of plays, but the type of thing he’s especially known for are his “comedies of manners” — sophisticated satires that hum along like a fine tuned sports car, powered by rapid-fire wit.

Private Lives is no exception. In fact, in many ways it’s probably the quintessential Coward comedy: a ridiculous set up in a romantic setting with glamorous people. And it’s darn funny, too.

The set-up in Private Lives is that divorced couple Amanda Prynne (Nancy Kartholl) and Elyot Chase (Michael Nelaborige) happen to be on their honeymoons with their new spouses Victor Prynne (Richard Marchbanks) and Sibyl Chase (Gloria Minnich) and find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms sharing a balcony. Amanda and Elyot still have strong feelings for each other, though affection isn’t always high on the list. “Combative” may be the best way to describe them, says director Phillip Colglazier. “It’s the ‘can’t live with them/can’t live without them’ situation with Elyot and Amanda,” he says.

The setting is Paris (or at least a Paris hotel with a big balcony). And the people are upper-class Brits who seem born with a drink in their hand and a quip on their tongue. “We were joking that we have no clue if any of these characters have real jobs, which makes them fun to play,” says Michael Nelaborige.

Nelaborige, who last appeared on the Civic stage as the candle stick in Beauty and the Beast and has 15 years of theater experience, says that Elyot Chase is the kind of guy you’d want at your cocktail party. “Elyot could tell jokes and play the piano. He’s an amazing guy. He’s got this gift for repartee.”

But this being a Coward play, everyone has the gift of gab. The verbal volleys that are the centerpiece of Private Lives can seem easy and light, but are actually quite a challenge to pull off. “Coward’s dialogue is so well formed and clipped, it’s really almost a tennis match,” says Nelaborige. “It makes for, obviously, quite a bit of memorization and picking up cues.” It’s also a period British comedy. Nelaborige says the cast has chosen to give it a British flavor — clipped, crisp dialogue — without going all out on the accent. “You still need to be conscious about eliminating your Hoosierisms and keeping the style there,” he says.

The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents Private Lives
Friday and Saturday, September 12 and 13 at 8 pm; Sunday September 14 at 2 pm
Friday and Saturday, September 19 and 20 at 8 pm; Sunday September 21 at 2 pm
Arts United Center 303 East Main
Tickets: $22 adults; $14 ages 23 and under; $18 seniors and Sunday matinees
Box Office: (260) 422-8641 x222 or online: www.fwcivic.org

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