A successful staging ofNoel Coward's"Private Lives" means pulling off a tricky balancing act with precision — several balancing acts, in fact.
Perhaps director Timothy Williams is also a tightrope walker, because in Mad Cow Theatre's production of Coward's 1930 comedy, he gets the balance just right.
The lead characters — squabbling ex-spouses — have to be appalling yet charismatic. The secondary characters — the leads' new spouses — have to be drippy enough to be dismissed, yet appealing enough to produce a twinge of sympathy. The dialogue's delivery has to be campy enough to evoke fatuous British high society of the pre-war era, yet rooted in a relatable sensibility. And the audience has to both abhor the behavior of ex-spouses Elyot and Amanda, yet be a little envious of their devil-may-care attitudes.
At the Mad Cow, Williams gets it right every time. The result is a fast-paced, frothy production that maintains plenty of bite, wittily displaying the thin line — the very thin line — between love and hate.
The slight story is readymade for a 1970s sitcom plot: Elyot and Amanda, a couple who bring out the worst in each other, have been divorced five years. Coincidentally, both have remarried and discover they are honeymooning at the same resort — even sharing a terrace. Before you can say intermission, they have ditched their new spouses and run off together, all the while bickering, bantering and baiting one another.
Philip Nolen and Jennifer Christa Palmer revel in their zingers as the kiss-em or kill-em exes. Nolen gets extra comic mileage out of silly voices and facial contortions, while Palmer uses her voice magnificently, moving her British accent up a social class or two when Amanda tries to be exceptionally superior to her ex.
Kevin Zepf and Sarah Jane Fridlich use everything they've got — his vacillating voice, her out-of-sorts wig — to show just how obviously, hopelessly and deliciously wrong their characters are for their new mates.
The deliberately arch delivery takes a moment or two to get used to — but it's literally just moments until this show wins you over.
"Let's be superficial," Nolen's Elyot exclaims at one point. With a production as fine as this one, oh yes, let's.
• What: Mad Cow Theatre production of the Noel Coward comedy
• Length: 2 hours, including a full-length intermission and 5-minute break between acts 2 and 3
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; extra shows at 7:30 p.m. on two Mondays, April 9 and 23; through April 29
• Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 105 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando
•Tickets: $32; $30 students and seniors; $15 on Mondays
• Call: 407-297-8788, Ext. 1
• Online: madcowtheatre.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun