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Broadway's 'Private Lives' is 'big romantic stuff'
Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross in 'Private Lives' on Broadway is 'big romantic stuff, darling'
By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) ' Love can make you crazy. Just ask Beyonce ("Crazy in Love") Knowles or Britney ("Toxic") Spears or Patsy ("Crazy") Cline. On Broadway, there's no better example right now of how insane love can get than "Private Lives."

Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross star in this revival of the Noel Coward classic and clearly have an absolute romp as they reveal every shade of infatuation, from post-coital deliriousness to blood-curdling jealousy.

Director Richard Eyre and the cast succeed in a tricky balancing act for a play written in 1930: Keep the humor, but lose much of the affected, mannered performances ' all those "darlings" and "splendids" and Coward bon mots ' that often make his plays seem frothy and insubstantial.

The result, which opened Thursday at the Music Box Theatre, is funny and insightful in its attempt to reconcile the notion of marriage and sexual attraction, and yet also doesn't shy away from exploring the link between lust and violence.

Cattrall's return to Broadway is apparently overdue. At a recent preview, the audience accidentally burst into applause at the sight of Anna Madeley, also a blonde, thinking it was the "Sex and the City" star. By the time Cattrall did appear as Amanda, she was dressed only in a fluffy white towel, funny and arch but never insubstantial. This play has brought out her best ' petulant, sexy, droll, physical and adoring.

Gross, who is making his Broadway debut, is the perfect mix of brute and sexy cad. Even when he's being lovey-dovey, there's an air of foreboding. He remarks that certain women should be struck regularly like gongs and he's clearly not joking. But he's also a lover, a romantic who dances, plays the piano and mixes up a (few too many) cocktails.

The play opens on a hotel terrace in northwestern France, where this divorced couple, whose love was clearly too intense to last, discovers that they are now inadvertently honeymooning next door to each other with new spouses.

It's clear ' often just through pauses in their speech ' that neither Amanda nor Elyot are besotted by their new respective significant others: the really funny stuffed suit Simon Paisley Day as Victor, and a needy and naive yet beautiful Madeley as Sybil.

Seeing Amanda and Elyot together ' their eyes flashing, their bodies leaning into each other, the smolder still there ' immediately turns the audience on the side of adultery, even though Amanda has explained that "we were like two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle."

The couple bolt to an apartment in Paris, with the jilted couple they left behind in hot pursuit, demanding answers that neither Amanda nor Elyot wants to answer. "That sort of attraction can't be explained," Amanda says later.

In Act 2, the lovers convince themselves that this time it'll last because they're older and wiser and have worked out a cool-down phrase that triggers a two-minute period of silence if they're arguing too much. It gets used plenty.

Rob Howell's sets explode in richness in Act 2. The Paris apartment is a deeply sexy Art Deco pied-a-terre, complete with painted ducks and fish on the walls, love seats, a piano, a round window like a ship's porthole, and the coolest aquarium on Earth featuring goldfish in three tiers of bowls. It's a far cry from Howell's Act 1 set, the hotel, with its wood slated paneling and shrubbery, which seemed pedestrian. But that was the point: boring and safe versus loose and seductive.

That Act 2 set will be destroyed, of course, as Amanda and Elyot return to familiar squabbling. The pillows fly and Eyre doesn't shy away from the violence. Their rekindled love is like that goldfish tank ' it springs a sensational leak. Both sides hit and squabble and threaten ' both guilty of spousal abuse, a realization that sits somewhat awkwardly in a comedy. It's funny but it's scary to laugh.

The two supporting players ' Victor and Sybil ' are simply cutouts at the beginning but this production tries hard to put meat on those bones. Day, especially, who uses the piano lid as a trouser press, recalls another sort of winningly fussy, awkward gentleman in Adam Godley from "Anything Goes."

The play ' thanks also to Coward's song "Someday I'll Find You" and Howell's gorgeous silk dresses and formal tuxedos ' is ultimately what Amanda declares to her lover is "big romantic stuff, darling."




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