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November 30th, 2011

Private Lives & Shoemaker's Holiday

A stranger pairing is probably possible (King Lear & Wicked?)  At least they're both comedies, and both funny.  And they both have (as comedies tend to do) love as their central plot device.  Both are notable for exuberant language and the occasional double-entendre.  However, one is a distinctly middle-class play in praise of good cheer and upward mobility written by Thomas Dekker in 1599, while the other is a distinctly upper-middle class play in bemused appreciation of the vagaries of human affection written by Noel Coward in 1930. 

Also, one was an expensively staged and costumed Broadway play, and the other was a reading in a smallish off-Broadway theatre in an old church.  But (as Dame Margery Eyre often says) let that pass.

Private Lives was great.  We'd seen it some years back, with Alan Rickman as Elyot and Lindsay Duncan as his Amanda.  I use the possessive advisedly--she was very much (as I remember it) HIS Amanda.  This one isn't like that.  Elyot is played by Paul Gross, who played Jeffrey on Slings and Arrows.  And if you have never seen Slings and Arrows, you must go out and rent it immediately, because it is DIVINE.  Then you'll know what I mean when I say that this Elyot is a very male Elyot, with something of the air of a very clever 10 year old and something of the sensual enthusiasm of a 20 year old, and a world of good, old-fashioned SA.  Which is a good thing, because if he didn't, Kim Cattrell's Amanda would wipe the stage with him.  I'd say she's a force of nature, but that would indicate that there's something natural about Amanda and Cattrell's take on her, which there isn't.  Like Elyot, Amanda is a creature of artifice, clever as hell and torn between what she wants and what she thinks she ought to want.  Like Elyot, she is self-centered, unreflective, and childish.  It's a tribute to the intelligence of Cattrell's performance that she can make me like a character I can't find a good word to say about, and to both actors that they can make me believe in their mutual affection while bickering like a pair of 3rd graders over the last cookie on the plate.

Shoemaker's Holiday was part of the Red Bull Theatre's Revelation Readings of plays that are too obscure, too difficult, and too expensive to mount a full production of.  The actors were mostly from last winter's production of The Witch of Edmonton, which I saw and loved.  This isn't as fine or nuanced a play--or as easy to follow, the language of comedy dating as it does, even for those of us who have read Shakespeare's Bawdy and know an obsolete double-entendre when we hear one.  But the cast did an enthusiastic and intelligent job of it.  And the guy playing Firk (who has most of the funniest, as well as the dirtiest bits) could have got the audience to laugh and blush over the phone book.  If he wanted to, and if we still had phone books.  We had just got back from Darkovercon, and were kind of (OK, very) tired, but I'm very glad we went.  It's not like I'm ever going to hear it read again (unless we do it for our annual 12th Night play reading here at Chateau Riverside) and we laughed and laughed.

The set of her Paris apartment was a place I want to live in--all windows and views of Paris and big, squishy sofas. 


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